‘Explosion of joy’ as Dupont carries Toulouse’s tradition forward
Player of tournament says side’s illustrious Champions Cup past ‘highly motivating’
Toulouse’s Antoine Dupont and Maxime Medard celebrate with their team-mates after beating La Rochelle in Champions Cup final. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
The Champions Cup has always mattered to Toulouse, whose status as European aristocracy has been restored after an 11-year hiatus. As a result, social distancing and Covid-19 protocols were ignored in the Place du Capitol as the pink city was turned red and black for the day before an outpouring of celebrations.
Toulouse have always been pro-European and winning this competition is in their DNA, in their boyhood dreams.
Asked for his feelings when he ended the game by kicking the ball dead, having done so prematurely before, Antoine Dupont admitted with a laugh: “The first reflex was to check that the time was really up, because I have some prior history with that.
“Afterwards, it was certainly an explosion of joy, and what’s more, Cissous [Baille] jumped on top of me. We realised that that was it – we’d done it. We were together at Lannemezan. He played with my brother; I was younger,” said Dupont in reference to their underage days together.
“That was 15 years ago, and we had no idea we would end up here. It was a dream of ours as kids, and to be able to achieve it together is magical. It’s a tough feeling to describe, other than immeasurable joy.”
Toulouse’s rich history – they have also been champions of France an unrivalled 20 times – carries its own burdens as well as inspiration.
“I think it’s a double-edged sword, as we benefit from the experience of our elders like Ugo [Mola], who has been lucky enough to win, and the other members of the staff who were there today,” said Dupont, who was named player of the tournament after the game.
“It’s not a heavy weight to carry; it’s highly motivating, and I felt it the moment I got there and even more so when taking part in this competition.
“The club has an illustrious past in the Champions Cup. We were the joint-top team in terms of number of Champions Cup wins, and today, we can add a fifth star to our shirt, and we now realise that we form part of the club’s legacy and that we’re carrying that tradition forward.”
Mola himself maintained that their history gave Toulouse no divine rights.
“You are talking about our ‘institution’, but this would be a lack of respect for other institutions. Think about it: Toulon triumphed several years in a row, then Leinster became king of the Champions Cup, then Saracens. You must admit, it is a hard one to claim.
“Eleven years may seem like an eternity, but ask the clubs that never had the chance to win it how they feel about that. Only three French clubs have won it so far, so, I think we should stay humble, because dry spells can last longer than you think. Generations change, new marks must be reached.
“The post-2012 era was a tough one for Stade Toulousain, because new players came in to replace a generation that had won everything and filled the trophy cabinet. However, today, this new generation, with help from Jerome Kaino – when you are lucky enough to meet a guy like him, you have to make the most of it,” said the Toulouse head coach in reference to the two-time World Cup winner who is retiring at the end of the season to become part of their backroom team.
“This generation of young Toulouse players has been lucky enough to play and win with Jerome Kaino. Now, he is going to work with me. He’d better be ready to get up early and spend all day working, either on his computer or on the field, and for some time.”