Jack Willis ‘lucky’ to avoid red card after early clash with Caelan Doris in Champions Cup final

Colin Newboult
Toulouse star Jack Willis alongside his early hit on Leinster number eight Caelan Doris.

Toulouse star Jack Willis alongside his early hit on Leinster number eight Caelan Doris.

Jack Willis rightly received plaudits for his remarkable performance in the Investec Champions Cup final, but his game could have ended after just a minute.

The 27-year-old was one of Toulouse’s stars as they defeated Leinster 31-22 in the showpiece event for their sixth European title.

Willis made 29 tackles and was a constant nuisance at the breakdown, consistently slowing the Irish province’s ball down, but that could have all been rendered moot in the early stages.

Doris received the ball five metres out from the line with just over 1:30 gone on the clock when he looked to get on the front foot, charging into the Toulouse flanker.

Head contact

There was perhaps a late change in direction from the Ireland international which, if reviewed, might have saved Willis, but there was clearly head-on-head contact.

The back-rower also failed to wrap his right arm before Doris rode the challenge and was eventually brought to the ground by Peato Mauvaka.

L’Ovaliste uploaded the video on X, formerly Twitter, with the translated caption: “Willis was lucky to have slipped through the cracks. There you go from 30 tackles and titan match to red from 1min30.”

It was obviously not reviewed at the time but, had it been, Willis may well have seen his Champions Cup final ended early and the advantage handed to Leinster.

Fortunately for the Englishman and his team, it was either missed or not deemed worthy of a review from the television match official.

Willis then went on to produce an all-time display, which has led to calls for the Rugby Football Union to abandon their overseas policy.

Bernard Jackman is one of those people, as the ex-Ireland hooker urged the governing body to make the necessary changes to allow Steve Borthwick to bring him back into the England squad.

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Unlikely to return to England

And given Willis’ comments on his future, the RFU may have to make alterations if they want to call-up the talented Toulouse forward.

“For me, there’s lots of things to consider when you talk about a move,” the back-row said.

“After leaving Wasps, there were a lot of emotions. Trying to deal with joining another club in England is a hard thing. No one probably realises how difficult that is.

“I probably escaped a little bit being out at such a great club where we have had a chance to win a Top 14 and a Champions Cup.

“The emotions I feel right now is that I am incredibly grateful. I have been welcomed into a group that have shown nothing but respect to me and have welcomed me with open arms. That’s all I am thinking about.

“I have just won the Champions Cup. If you had told me two years ago that I would be winning a Champions Cup, I would have thought that you were mental.

“There were a lot of lows with Wasps and I was not playing as much as I would have wanted in certain games, so to be welcomed in Toulouse – I can’t tell you how grateful I am.

“My family have been welcomed and there are so many good blokes here. I’m just so grateful to be a part of this group and to be able to try to add to it.”

READ MORE: Jack Willis weighs up England future after being ‘incredibly grateful’ to Toulouse