Rising stars look to create their own history
Toulouse v Bath, Live, BT Sport 3, 3.15
The low point came towards the end of April 2017. Toulouse, with their play-off hopes hanging by a thread, travelled to Castres in the Top 14 and were humiliated 52-7. "We are closer to shame than anything else," admitted Ugo Mola, the head coach. "Clubs sometimes experience complicated times. This is one of them."
Then came the rebirth. Toulouse might be heading into today's fixture against Bath off the back of a chastening defeat by Leinster - they are hardly the first and certainly will not be the last to do that - but the overall picture for the four-time European champions is much rosier.
Less than two years on from finishing 12th in the Top 14 they are in contention for a quarter-final place in the Champions Cup, having pulled off a home win over Leinster earlier in the competition, and sit second in the French league behind Clermont. All due to a change in philosophy. The outlay on high-price signings from overseas has been limited, focusing instead on developing young French talent. Aside from one notable addition: the elusive South African wing Cheslin Kolbe.
"Before Toulouse had a huge squad with a lot of experience, from all different countries, and that created a lot of success," Kolbe says. "However, a couple of years ago they chose to start giving opportunities to new, young boys so they could gain as much experience as possible for the future."
The result is an impressive core of young talent. Thomas Ramos, 22, and Romain Ntamack, 19, son of former France international Emile, were called up by France head coach Jacques Brunel last week along with hooker Julian Marchand, who at 23 was named Toulouse club captain before the season. And then there is the crown jewel, Antoine Dupont, the 22-year-old scrum-half seemingly destined for greatness with club and country. All of which makes Kolbe, at only 25, seem like he has been around for a decade.
"When I joined the club, I had not heard of [Dupont]. But seeing him play, I would have thought he had been a professional for years. I could not believe it when I found out he was only 21," Kolbe admits. "This kid has everything going for him.
"The scary thing for me is that most of the players are aged between 19 and 24. They can absorb so much experience just by playing. Guys like Romain Ntamack are playing Top 14 rugby at 19. Ramos and Dupont have been doing that for a couple of years and are still young. These are players in key positions constantly learning."
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