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Leinster warned to fear ‘alien’ Dupont as Toulouse seek sixth Champions Cup
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Leinster warned to fear ‘alien’ Dupont as Toulouse seek sixth Champions Cup

Toulouse are warning Leinster to beware the man they call “The ­Martian” as the French champions seek to reinforce their reputation as the world’s pre-eminent club side. Even Antoine Dupont’s own teammates cannot believe their scrum-half’s extraordinary ability and reckon the opposition will struggle to subdue him in the Champions Cup final on Saturday.

The world’s best player is also due to showcase his talents for France at the Olympics this summer but his first priority is to help Toulouse to become the first club to lift Europe’s premier club trophy for a sixth time.

“The boys joke around and call him ‘The Martian’, like he’s not from Earth, he’s an alien,” said Toulouse’s massive French international forward Emmanuel Meafou.

“The stuff he’s done in games is only half of what he’s capable of. He does some stuff at training where you can’t do anything but shake your head and just wish you could do that, too. He’s also a real humble guy and is growing into that leadership spot. He’s got all the qualities for a rugby player and it shows in his game.”

The 27-year-old Dupont, however, is not the only significant threat to Leinster as they seek to secure only their second Champions Cup title since 2012. The Toulouse pack is formidably strong, with the 6ft 8in ­Meafou weighing in at almost 23 stone on his own, and can also pose problems with ball in hand, as both Exeter and Harlequins have recently discovered.

“I was raised in Australia and when you think of French rugby you just think ‘pick and go’ and ‘scrum’,” said Meafou, now qualified for France via residency. “Then, after I was approached to come here, I discovered it was nothing like that. Of course they enjoy that part of the game but the DNA of Toulouse is to play. They want to keep the ball alive and it’s really encouraged from a young age.

“From our front row to the back row to the centres to the full-back we’re all encouraged to play the same. We know we’re all capable of playing with ball in hand so we’re not limited by the number on our back. If a prop needs to make a pass he can do it.”

Leinster, beaten in each of the past two finals by La Rochelle, have no shortage of match-winners themselves but Toulouse have been ­enjoying a modern renaissance under the command of coach Ugo Mola.

“Everyone wants to win but here it’s definitely an ­expectation,” ­Meafou said. “They’re historically successful and they want to keep it that way. To win and win ­convincingly is always the bar … we don’t aim for anything lower. Even though our ­success rate against ­Leinster hasn’t been good we’re a ­different team to what we were three years ago. We know what we’re ­capable of. We like our chances and we’re going to give it our best.”

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A major row, meanwhile, has ­reignited in New Zealand where the New Zealand Rugby Players ­Association (NZRPA) says it will take the extraordinary step of setting up a new body to govern professional rugby in the country if governance reforms are blocked at a special ­general ­meeting next Thursday.

The World Cup-winning captains Richie McCaw and David Kirk and high-profile All Blacks including Sam Whitelock and Sam Cane are among the signatories to a letter to New Zealand ­Rugby’s ­voting members, effectively warning of a potential split between the professional and provincial games in New Zealand.

“Should the status quo prevail, the ­professional players will no longer pass to NZRU, via a collective ­employment ­agreement, the right to govern the professional game,” read the NZRPA letter.

Source: theguardian.com