Toulouse v Exeter: Five takeaways from Champions Cup quarter-final of two halves as ‘outstanding’ lock dominates Chiefs

James While
Emmanuel Meafou and Antoine Dupont for Toulouse.

Emmanuel Meafou and Antoine Dupont for Toulouse.

Following a 64-26 victory for Toulouse over Exeter Chiefs in their Investec Champions Cup quarter-final, here’s our five takeaways from the game at Stade Ernest Wallon.

Toulouse crush Chiefs

A quarter-final of two contrasting halves saw a brilliant second period showing by Toulouse dismantle a committed and doughty Chiefs in a massive win at the Stade Ernest Wallon.

It was a Toulouse performance built on patience and power around the breakdown, earning the right to go wide before pressing hard on the accelerator in the second half courtesy of their bench impact players, as the home team scored five tries in half an hour against a tiring Exeter defence.

Nine tries from Romain Ntamack, Jack Willis, Blair Kinghorn (two) Pita Ahki (two) Antoine Dupont and Juan Cruz Mallia (two) tell a sorry tale, but seven of those came in the second half as Exeter had stayed with Toulouse all the way in the first half, going in at the break just 17-16 down.

It leaves Toulouse facing Harlequins in the Champions Cup semi-final on May 4 as the French team goes for a record sixth star on their shirt and on the evidence we saw today that game promises to be an absolute corker given Quins’ performance in Bordeaux yesterday.

Meafou powered

If there was one difference between the two teams on Sunday it was the immense power of Emmanuel Meafou around the breakdown and contact area. Put simply, the French international caused havoc to an extremely physical and abrasive Exeter breakdown unit, smashing and clearing players as if they were rag dolls.

Toulouse made Exeter’s possession as messy as possible, giving the half-back absolutely no time on the ball as rucks were hit with incredible power. With flankers Willis and Francois Cros feasting on the effort of their colleagues in their jackal work (Cros’ steal on the line off Immanuel Feyi-Waboso was a breathtaking piece of technique and skill), Exeter really struggled to cope with the tidal wave of Toulouse power that Meafou inspired, and rarely were they able to attack with their usual pod of four running at pace off the carrying or passing nine.

Toulouse player ratings: Blair Kinghorn and Jack Willis shine in statement win over Exeter Chiefs

Meafou wasn’t only limited to his breakdown work; the massive lock put in some absolutely bone shaking hits all around the park as he showed his intellect and mobility in defence. His hit on Ross Vintcent shook the stands at the Ernest Wallon and there were plenty more of those as the lock managed five dominant tackles during the course of the game.

Toulouse may be a side noted for their running ambition but this win was built upon their forward power around the gainline and breakdown, and that was most definitely powered by the enormous 150kg frame of the outstanding Meafou.

Chiefs defence fails

For all the fine work of the Exeter forwards in competing against the excellence of the Toulouse breakdown, Rob Baxter will be seething at the defensive howlers and the lack of line width that allowed the hosts’ half-backs to create havoc in the wide channels.

Time and time again Toulouse exploited the frailties of the Chiefs’ 13/14 channel, where Henry Slade’s propensity to try and blitz out for the miracle tackle cost the visitors. Toulouse love attacking the outside with two carriers running an inside line on the pull back pass.

Kinghorn benefitted twice from Exeter’s frailties in the wide channel, whilst to compound matters, a few moments after his second try, a simple defensive structure from set-piece cost Baxter’s men another as Jack Yeandle and his back-row failed to cover off the attacking channel, leaving Pita Ahki a simple run in to the line.

Ntamack returns, Willis shines

This was Ntamack’s second match back after his horrendous ACL injury prior to the Rugby World Cup and his calm assurance and silky running gave shape to the Toulouse backline that perhaps had been missing earlier this season as others were tried in the number 10 shirt. Predictably, the French Test player got onto the score sheet, but it was his intuitive interplay with Dupont that created so many opportunities for others around him, as little pop passes caused havoc as the Toulouse carriers ran onto his deft touches with glee.

On the flank, Willis, ably supported by Cros, also showed just how sorely English rugby misses his talents as he put in a really impressive shift, running some 104 metres, scoring a try and was unlucky not the grab another as he was pulled down near the line.

Willis says he’s a lot happier with his ball in hand progress this season in terms of both his running and his passing work – and on the evidence we saw today we can see exactly why as the former Wasp was absolutely outstanding.

Bench differences

Chiefs were not assisted by their own changes as their set-piece started to creak. Ehren Painter might run around the open field with all of the enthusiasm of a man with his braces entangled on the goal posts, but in the tight he is Chiefs set-piece rock. Once he departed, the drop off to Marcus Street was evident to all, as Exeter’s set-piece failed to gain the dominance it had in the early stages of the match, but by that time Toulouse were pretty much home and hosed as they delivered a hugely impressive performance.

But when you have players of the calibre of Julien Marchand, Thibaud Flament, Thomas Ramos and Santiago Chocobares coming off your bench it shows the depth of talent available to Ugo Mola and his coaches. That’s some 200 odd Test caps and three of those players are in the discussion for the best exponents of their positions in the current game.

In short, the heat and the sheer impact of the Toulouse bench energised their team and with six tries scored in the last 25 minutes, it’s no wonder why the Black and Reds haven’t been beaten at home in their last 33 matches at Stade Ernest Wallon.

READ MORE: Blair Kinghorn brace helps Antoine Dupont’s Toulouse ease past Exeter Chiefs in Champions Cup quarter-final