Kolbe's Toulouse hoping to 'crack open' Champions Cup final

Paris (AFP) –


Rugby World Cup winner Cheslin Kolbe said his Toulouse side need to "crack the final" open if they want to beat La Rochelle on Saturday and clinch a record fifth European Champions Cup.

Top 14 leaders Toulouse play the team second in France's top flight, who have conceded the lowest number of points in the league this season, at Twickenham in a sixth all-French affair.

"I think it's going to be a game where discipline and defence are probably going to be some of the key factors in the match," said South African Kolbe.

"Whenever there are opportunities for us, as players, within the structure, to capitalise on, we also need to bring our own natural abilities to the game, to hopefully crack it open some other way," he added.

La Rochelle will be making their debut in the top-tier final after beating four-time winners Leinster in the semi-final.

Three-time champion Will Skelton joined the Atlantic coast club, who were only promoted to the Top 14 seven years ago, at the start of the campaign after a trophy-laden spell with Saracens.

"Rugby is massive in this town. It's not the biggest, it's a small community. They go mad for rugby here," Australia lock Skelton said.

"When we pulled up against Leinster, I didn't expect it. We had around 1,000 people just (at the stadium before the game), which I'm not sure is Covid-friendly but it revved us up for the game."

Leading Kolbe's men will likely be former New Zealand back-rower Jerome Kaino, with regular captain Julien Marchand banned for a dangerous tackle in the last-four victory over Bordeaux-Begles.

"I never thought that I would have the opportunity to play with such a legend as Jerome. He's just so experienced; he's achieved so much throughout his rugby career," Kolbe said.

"For me he's just a phenomenal player but more so a great man, someone I've always looked up to by the way he's played as well, just being as physical as everybody knows him."

- 'Leader' Vito -

Facing Kaino will be a former All Black and fellow double World Cup winner Victor Vito, as the pair battle for a maiden Champions Cup title.

"Victor's awesome. His experience is massive for this team," Skelton said.

"He's one of our leaders, and I extract as much as I can from him when we're one-on-one."

A sell-out crowd of 10,000 will be in west London this weekend as England loosens its coronavirus restrictions.

Kolbe and Vito last played in front of fans in the autumn before a second wave of Covid-19 hit France.

It is unlikely many people will make the trip over the Channel due to a quarantine but Skelton expected some support from those based in Britain.

"It will be massive for us just to have people there. Hopefully we get a few La Rochelle fans. I know the Toulouse community is quite big," Skelton said.

"Hopefully, we can get a few chants in with our black and yellow going on."