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Toulouse v Harlequins - Teams and Prediction

SUNDAY PREVIEW: In Sunday’s Champions Cup semifinal, record five-time European kings Toulouse host English Premiership side Harlequins at Le Stadium in Toulouse.

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It’s a clash between the two most free-scoring, attacking sides left in the competition.

Top 14 side Toulouse hammered Quins 49-17 in a pool match in December but No. 8 Alexandre Roumat said the French giants were guarding against over-confidence.

“Our coaching staff have already warned us about that and no doubt will continue to do so up to the last minute,” he said.

“The score was very much in our favour but it did not truthfully reflect the real level of Harlequins, who have incredible individuals.

“Even if we play in two different championships, we both play a similar style of game, we feed off counter-attacks.”

While Toulouse is just one win away from an eighth final, Sunday’s match will be Harlequins’ first semifinal in European club rugby’s top tournament.

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Quins, who won the second-tier Challenge Cup three times when it was still just a European tournament, have upset the odds by twice winning in France this season, beating Paris-based Racing 92 and defeating Bordeaux-Begles 42-41 in a stunning quarterfinal.

“I haven’t seen any fear this week,” said Roumat’s opposite number, Alex Dombrandt.

“It is the biggest week in the club’s history. The belief is strong among the group. We have won in France a couple of times.”

He added: “They (Toulouse) are a team of superstars across the board and we also know we are going to have to go there and score tries, so we are going to go there and attack.”

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Unfortunately for Harlequins fans, the statistics are not in their favour. Stade Toulousain came to South-West London in Round 2 of the pool matches and shredded the home defence, running in seven tries to three.

The TOP14 club boasts a glittering squad featuring Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack at half-back and with the significant presences of Anthony Jelonch, Emmanuel Meafou and Cyril Baille up front.

And that’s only the French internationals; Scotland international Blair Kinghorn has been having a whale of a time since his move from Edinburgh and was the team’s top scorer in the quarterfinal against Exeter Chiefs.

Harlequins can thrill on their day, but the suspicion is that the Premiership club have a soft underbelly and if that proves to be the case on Sunday, Stade Toulousain will expose it ruthlessly.

But how soft is it? Harlequins found a more dogged edge in the face of a spirited Northampton Saints fightback at Twickenham last week, beating the Premiership leaders despite being a man down for half an hour of the game.

The London club’s history of being play-off chokers has been firmly erased by the extraordinary win in Bordeaux in the quarter-finals.

They are not always perfect, but winning is a habit they seem to have gotten into at just the right stage of this season, in which a domestic and EPCR double is well within the realms of possibility.

“What an opportunity that we have,” said head coach Danny Wilson. “This is the business end of the season. These are the games you want to be involved in.

“We are into May and we are in the semifinal of the Champions Cup and fighting to be in the league play-offs. There is one other English team (Northampton) in that same position, no one else.

“We are excited about it. We are not seeing it as something you have got to endure. You have got to throw the kitchen sink at it.”

The last time the two clubs met in a knockout match was in 1998, when Stade Toulousain delivered a display in the 51-10 quarter-final win that older heads remember with admiration.

Harlequins triumphed 24-31, playing just the sort of exhilarating brand of rugby they have become known for the past couple of seasons. Fallible they may be, but Harlequins also have history of pulling out wins from seemingly hopeless positions.

With Stade Toulousain in form, riding high in the TOP14 and showing a relatively clean bill of health, Harlequins’ position looks vulnerable. It’s exactly their time.

The winners of the two semifinals will meet in a May 25 final at London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Prediction:
@rugby365com: Toulouse by seven points

The teams:

Toulouse: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Juan Cruz Mallia, 13 Paul Costes, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Matthis Lebel, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont (captain), 8 Alexandre Roumat, 7 Jack Willis, 6 Francois Cros, 5 Thibaud Flament, 4 Emmanuel Meafou, 3 Dorian Aldegheri, 2 Peato Mauvaka, 1 Cyril Baille
Replacements: 16 Julien Marchand, 17 Rodrigue Neti, 18 Joel Merkler, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Mathis Castro Ferreira, 21 Paul Graou, 22 Santiago Chocobares, 23 Thomas Ramos

Harlequins: 15 Tyrone Green, 14 Louis Lynagh, 13 Luke Northmore, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Cadan Murley, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Will Evans, 6 Chandler Cunningham-South, 5 Stephan Lewies (captain), 4 Irne Herbst, 3 Will Collier, 2 Jack Walker, 1 Fin Baxter
Replacements: 16 Sam Riley, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Simon Kerrod, 19 George Hammond, 20 James Chisholm, 21 Will Porter, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Oscar Beard

Venue: Le Stadium, Toulouse
Kick-off: 15:00 (16.00 SA time)
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Chris Busby (Ireland), Eoghan Cross (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)

@ChampionsCup @AFP

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