Heineken Champions Cup holders Stade Toulousain return to domestic action on Sunday with a bang as they travel to face Stade Rochelais in a repeat of the European showpiece final at Twickenham Stadium as well as the TOP 14 final in June.
Toulouse claimed a fifth star with a 22-17 win over this weekend’s opponents at English Rugby’s HQ, and repeated the trick the following month as they came out 18-8 victors at the Stade de France in the domestic decider.
Former Munster Rugby fly-half Ronan O’Gara has since taken the reins as head of rugby operations at La Rochelle as well as his head coach role, with former director of rugby Jono Gibbes moving north to take the position of head coach at ASM Clermont Auvergne.
They have kept the vast majority of the playing staff during the off-season, with the likes of Australian lock Will Skelton and Fijian centre Levani Botia – sent off in the Heineken Champions Cup final – both remaining at the Stade Marcel-Deflandre.
Toulouse were dealt a hammer blow last month with the news that Springboks wing Cheslin Kolbe made the move to three-time European champions RC Toulon in a blockbuster deal.
They have also seen veterans in former All Blacks back-row Jerome Kaino and France wing Yoann Huget retire, but have added Tim Nanai-Williams from Clermont and can already count upon the youthful exuberance of EPCR European Player of the Year Antoine Dupont as well as Romain Ntamack, Julien Marchand and Thomas Ramos.
The other match on Sunday sees two teams who reached last season’s Heineken Champions Cup knockout stages go head-to-head, with Lyon facing Clermont, whilst on Saturday evening, 2020 Challenge Cup finalists Toulon will play host to 2021 Challenge Cup winners Montpellier Herault Rugby.
The pick of the Saturday action though takes place at the Stade Jean-Bouin as Parisian rivals go head-to-head with Stade Francais Paris hosting three-time Heineken Champions Cup finalists Racing 92.