By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) - Toulouse face a major challenge against the power of La Rochelle's pack as they bid for a record-extending fifth European Cup title in an all-French final at Twickenham on Saturday.
With four titles from six finals, the club has a pedigree that La Rochelle cannot boast, having never played a Top 14 final and only one in the Challenge Cup, which they lost to Clermont in 2019.
Their head coach Ronan O'Gara, however, has played four European Cup finals, although he lost his first two before lifting the trophy in 2006 and 2008 with Munster.
As a coach, while he states that 'it is ok to fail', he insists that he is 'in it to win it' and 'not here to partake'.
O'Gara can rely on an impressive pack, which crushed four-times champions Leinster in the semi-finals, featuring prop Uini Atonio, weighing at 145 kilos, lock Will Skelton (125) and flankers Gregory Alldritt (115) and Wiaan Liebenberg, the tournament's top tackler.
Toulouse, although they have injury and suspension woes, have the weight of history for them as they gun for their first European title since 2010.
"A lot of us were almost born in this club, so it's true that hanging another star on the jersey would be a big thing for a lot of players in this group," said flyhalf Romain Ntamack, who hopes to emulate his father Emile, winner of the Heineken Cup in 1996, 2003 and 2005.
"But we mustn't let it disturb us. Winning games is nice, but we make our mark by winning titles."
Toulouse will be without hooker Julien Marchand, who is suspended, and injured winger Yoann Huget and centre Zack Holmes.
Holmes could be replaced by Juan Cruz Mallia or Ntamack could shift to centre with Thomas Ramos starting at flyhalf.
Despite their power and Toulouse's problems, La Rochelle are well aware that the Red and Blacks can create danger like no other team.
"With (winger Cheslin) Kolbe and (scrumhalf Antoine) Dupont, they’ve two players with the biggest X-factor in world rugby," said O'Gara. "All of a sudden, there’s no danger, the next second you’re under your posts. Even at test level, there are very few teams that have a Kolbe and a Dupont in the same team. There isn’t a team that’s more deadly with the ball."
Twickenham will welcome fans - 10,000 - for the first time in 2021 as COVID-19 restrictions are being slowly lifted. It will also host the Challenge Cup final between Montpellier and the Leicester Tigers, who are looking to become the fifth side to win both European competitions after prevailing in the 2001 and 2002 Heineken Cups.
"Playing for a trophy at the end of the season is what drives us every day even if the club has not been in these games for such a long time," said Leicester prop Dan Cole.
"We have had difficult years. The team went through phases of transition and we had to adapt. We didn’t want to be at that level but this competition has shown our progress."
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Christian Radnedge)