Five teams who can stop Toulon

Date published: May 3 2015

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With the Champions Cup already nestled back in Toulon's Côte D'Azur stronghold, who are the sides that can challenge them in Europe?

Toulon made history with a third straight title on Saturday at Twickenham, becoming the first team to win three European titles in a row.

It's a run of dominance like nothing we've seen before in Europe and their squad depth and abilities to dictate matches and kill off opponents make them incredibly difficult to put away.

Can anyone stop them winning a fourth title next season? Here are some contenders.

Clermont

The obvious choice having lost in two of the last three finals to the European champions, Clermont once again came up short in London but for large portions of the match looked as though they had the means to lift the title. So why should things be any different next year? Well, the recruitment of Flip van der Merwe, Waisake Naholo and Scott Spedding is a big step forward with Clermont's only major departure for now being Napolioni Nalaga (to you guessed it, Toulon). Combine that with the progress of Camille Lopez at fly-half plus some added fire in the belly after defeat at Twickenham and you have a potent mix to challenge for a first European title.

Leinster

The three-time Irish champions lost in extra-time to Toulon this season but have the quality to challenge the best. That will only be added to by the return of Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton after his two-year stint with Racing Métro. Leinster won't quite feel the same with the retirement of Shane Jennings and Gordon D'Arcy, and how their Ireland stars handle a Rugby World Cup hangover will be crucial. But, when you combine their experience of winning in Europe with the players they have, Leinster have to be considered.

Saracens

Squeezed out by Clermont in the semi-finals, Saracens hold an edge over some of the other English contenders because of their track record over the last few seasons having made the 2014 final in Cardiff and fallen at the semi-final stage this season and in 2013. An overhaul to their squad isn't required but a fully fit Owen Farrell makes Saracens a far stronger side. More major signings before next season can't be ruled out either. They will be in the mix.

Racing Métro

Racing were knocked out of this year's competition by Saracens in the quarter-final thanks to Marcelo Bosch's long-range match-winning penalty, but their recruitment for next season makes them a definite contender. Arriving in Colombes next season will be Dan Carter, Chris Masoe (fresh from three titles with Toulon), Yannick Nyanga and Rémi Tales – all top players with a ton of experience when it comes to winning silverware. Jacky Lorenzetti won't stop until Racing are finally a success and making those signings is no guarantee of trophies, but it feels like a step forward.

Bath

Other sides like Northampton, Ulster, Glasgow Warriors and maybe even Wasps are all outside bets, but Bath feel like the strongest of that group below the main contenders. A lot of that hinges on George Ford, who has had an excellent campaign but will also be heavily involved at the World Cup. The 21-year-old has shown enough temperament and maturity to suggest that he can lead Bath to silverware. Add in some good signings such as Niko Matawalu and Rhys Priestland and Bath look stronger, but success will hinge on their pack stepping up and challenging the big French sides. 


Of course the only thing that might stop Toulon winning a fourth straight European title is Toulon themselves.

Bakkies Botha, Masoe, Ali Williams and Carl Hayman will all be gone but they have still made blockbuster signings in Ma'a Nonu, Nalaga and Samu Manoa, with Quade Cooper possibly to come.

Will the loss of those figures in the pack though do lasting damage? Or will the hunger still be there with Bernard Laporte no longer in charge and with the club having already written themselves into legend?

Diego Domínguez will be the new man at the helm in 2015/2016, with no previous experience of coaching at the top level other than what he was learned from working with the club since January. 

Those factors make next season feel like Toulon's biggest test for some time. A fourth European title after that much change while avoiding complacency would be staggering.

by Ben Coles

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