Friday 24 November 2017

Vintage Class

French giants have had some wonderful players over the years and some of their greatest are in the squad for Dublin Hugh Farrelly picks his all-time Toulouse XV

Vincent Clerc has dazzled for Toulouse and France. Photo: PA
Vincent Clerc has dazzled for Toulouse and France. Photo: PA

Hugh Farrelly

There are various pundits who reckon Leinster are not facing a vintage Toulouse side when they run out for the Heineken Cup semi-final at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

There have been accusations of Guy Noves overseeing the gradual demise of an ageing team who are moving away from the breathtaking attacking rugby that fostered their reputation as one of the game's most watchable outfits.

Considering that Toulouse arrive as European champions, are four points clear at the head of the Top 14 championship and had the highest pool points differential of the sides that did not have an Italian side in their group, writing this side off seems particularly imprudent.

They are the tournament's first and most recent victors and, with four titles, Europe's most successful team over the past 15 years. That period has been the most successful in their history and the players brought through and brought in by Noves dominate in any hall of fame selection.

However, Noves is continuing a proud tradition of quality representation and some of the true greats of French rugby have turned out in the red and black -- put it all together and you get a pretty potent mix.

15 Pierre Villepreux

Known as the father of counter-attacking full-backs, the 34-times capped Villepreux won legions of admirers for his willingness to run and the style with which he did so. His on-pitch intelligence translated into successful coaching roles with France and his 1993 paper, which was entitled 'Decision Making In Rugby', became a rugby coaching bible.

14 Gareth Thomas

'Alfie' was brought to Toulouse in 2004 to cater for the retirement of Emile N'Tamack and proved a huge success in his three years, picking up a Heineken Cup winners' medal back in 2005. Big, strong and fast, the Welsh centurion made his presence felt along the backline and proved a huge hit with the Ernest-Wallon faithful.

13 Denis Charvet

The glamorous centre played for Toulouse between 1982 and 1990, picking up three domestic titles. In the 1989 final, a glorious 80-metre run prompted President Mitterand to campaign for his international recall. Charvet won 23 caps for France, playing in every game at the 1987 World Cup, and took his film-star looks into acting when he retired, appearing in films such as 'La Belle Histoire' and 'Vercingetorix'.

12 Thomas Castaignede

Whether at full-back, out-half or centre, Castaignede was a player who created a stir whenever he touched the ball. Most effective as a playmaking 12, 'The Little Prince' made his name at Toulouse between 1994 and 1997, capturing three French titles in a row and the inaugural European Cup, and was capped 54 times by France.

11 Vincent Clerc

The regular scourge of Irish ambition, Clerc turns 30 next month but remains as deadly as ever on the touchline. Joining Toulouse from Grenoble in 2002, Clerc is closing in on 250 appearances for Guy Noves' team, scoring 100 tries including a record 32 in the Heineken Cup. Lethal.

10 Rob Andrew

Out-half has been the most consistently problematic position for Toulouse over the years with David Skrela following in the inconsistent footsteps of Frederic Michalak and also Christophe Deylaud. Over the course of his 10-year international career with England, Andrew, who spent a season with Toulouse in 1992, was defined by his consistency and what Noves would not give for his services on Saturday afternoon against Leinster.

9 Byron Kelleher

Kelleher, who leaves Toulouse at the end of the season, may have been weighed down by off-pitch activities, but there was no questioning his contribution on the field of play. Hugely physical, Kelleher's pace and power made him devastating on the break and he was worth more than the 54 caps he picked up for the All Blacks.

1 Christian Califano

One of the finest loose-heads to have played the game, punishing in the set-piece and magnificent in the loose, Califano spent 10 years with Toulouse between 1991 and 2001, winning an impressive six French championships and a European Cup. His first two caps for France came in the back-to-back wins over New Zealand in 1994 and he won 72 in total over a 13-year international career.

2 William Servat

Hooker has always been a position of strength for France, but Servat deserves to be ranked among the finest the country has ever produced. With Toulouse since the late 1990s, Servat combines vast power in the scrum with abrasive running and the 32-year-old has established himself as France's first-choice hooker and one of the game's finest.

3 Franck Tournaire

A beast of a tight-head, Tournaire's combination with Califano for Toulouse and France put the fear of God into opposition front-rows in the mid-to-late 1990s. Tournaire won 49 caps in an international career, his most effective outing coming in the shock 1999 World Cup semi-final win over the All Blacks when he played right on the edge while driving the shell-shocked Kiwis over it.

4 Fabien Pelous (capt)

Pelous grew up on a farm outside the city and spent 12 years at the club between 1997 and 2009, winning three European Cups and three French championships. Retired as France's leading cap-winner on 118, 42 of them as captain. The word 'legend' is bandied about too easily in modern rugby, but Pelous certainly fits the bill for both Toulouse and France.

5 Patricio Albacete

Seems to have been around forever, but the giant Puma does not turn 30 until December. Although the Toulouse pack is not short of grizzlies, Albacete gives them an extra hard edge and his rangy athleticism makes him the go-to guy at line-out and restart time. Has won 40 caps for Argentina, terrorising Ireland when Eddie O'Sullivan's men were dumped out of the 2007 World Cup.

6 Thierry Dusautoir

Will always be remembered for his try and tackle count (38) when France stunned New Zealand at the last World Cup, but Dusautoir has been equally inspirational for Toulouse over the last five years and has proved a worthy successor to Pelous as captain. Superb in the tackle, athletic in the air and incisive on the ball, the 29-year-old has earned his place in the Toulouse hall of fame.

7 Jean-Pierre Rives

France's first rugby superstar, Toulouse-born Rives played for his local club during his peak years from 1974-1981. His yellow thatch, speed and bravery made him a fans' favourite and earned him the nicknames of 'Asterix' and 'Casque d'or' (the golden helmet). Captained club and country, skippering France 34 times in his 54 appearances and became a highly regarded sculptor when he hung up his boots in the mid-1980s.

8 Walter Spanghero

The dominant figure in the French pack of the late 1960s and early 1970s and another man to captain club and country. Similar to Willie Duggan in style, Spanghero won 51 caps between 1964 and 1973 and sees off stiff competition from Christian Labit and Isitolo Maka to earn his place at No 8.


Yannick Bru, Dan Human, Jean-Baptiste Poux, Trevor Brennan, Jean-Claude Skrela, Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, Frederic Michalak, Emile N'Tamack.

Irish Independent

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