Champions Cup – Technical. What is “Toulouse-style” standing play (2/2)? “The carrier is responsible for the ball, and the supports are responsible for the continuity of the game,” explains Romain Ntamack

Nurtured since his youngest years in the Toulouse game, son of a stadium legend, no one was better placed than him to discuss the specificities of his club’s playing culture, closely linked to a certain vision of training aimed at reproduce these game situations as often as possible, and oil this “standing game” which is its strength.

Probably more than other teams, Stade Toulouse has integrated into its playing culture the organization of “star” or “diamond” support in disorderly playing situations, with one full-axis player and another from each side. Isn’t this ultimately the true cultural hallmark of the club?

It’s true that, since I was little, I’ve been used to playing this game. I was always taught it at rugby school and, still today at the professional level, it’s what we learn and what we work on every day in training. I don’t know if we do it better than the others, but I can tell you that we still work on it every day. Because, when the situation arises in a match, you have to be quickly placed in the right place, so that there is constant support. The main idea is to always have the possibility of making the ball live. Basically, we could almost say that the goal is to find each other with your eyes closed, as long as the guys are positioned as they should. But it is by repeating it in training that we manage to reproduce it in matches.

Screenshot 1.

See screenshot 1

New situation, after a slowed ruck this time: while the Toulouse forward block (black circles) moves back in the direction, Antoine Dupont chooses to suddenly reverse the direction of the game, on a call from Paul Costes. Because he has seen an interval (red arrow) and wants to take advantage of the attention paid by the English defenders to Dupont, who are only watching him (yellow arrows)…

Screenshot 2.

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Costes’ initiative allows him to gain the advantage line, but he is alone. The latter then has the reflex to seek support in the deep axis (red arrows), where Dupont projects according to the principle of “last passer, first support”. Even if to do this he must first win his “duel without the ball” against the defender who is holding him by the jersey (green circle), by virtue of a probable “anti-Dupont plan”.

Screenshot 3.
Screenshot 3.

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On the ground, Costes manages to serve Dupont (red circle), isolated in the middle of several defenders. It is then that the Toulouse game begins, with as often François Cros (black arrow) who projects himself as the first support while at the head of the ruck, Willis and Arnold (black circle) have already raised their heads to know where to make themselves available.

Figure 4.
Figure 4.

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It is at this precise moment that “Toulouse culture” is best expressed. Resisting the temptation to advance as far as possible, Dupont uses an inside hook (red arrow) which allows him to delay contact and allow time for the first support (black arrow) to arrive. Note that Costes (green circle) has already made the effort to get up to make himself available.

Screenshot 5.
Screenshot 5.

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Before being tackled, Dupont (red circle) thus has time to ensure the continuity of the standing movement with Cros (black circle), who benefits from the close support of Roumat to continue to gain a few precious meters to prolong the dynamic, and ensure conservation. Note here that, seeing Dupont on the ground, it is Willis (clearing during the preceding playing time) who presents himself in the relay position, in perfect versatility of roles.

Figure 6.
Figure 6.

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Even in an unacademic style, Willis (white circle) extracts the ball from the ruck for Arnold, who was also clearing during the previous playing time. The extreme availability of the Toulouse forwards offering Dupont (already noted too!) the time to “scan” the game (red arrow), in anticipation of the following playing time…

The expression that stands out in my memory is “playing standing up”

Do you remember working on this redistribution from a young age?

Of course. And that’s the advantage of working at it for a very long time, then of having a lot of players here from the training, who are used to working like this since the age of 10 or 15. By repeating these situations, knowing how to adapt to them has become natural for us. More than “star” or “diamond” support, the expression that stuck with me is “playing standing up”. I remember the educators who constantly repeated this in the middle of the field: “play upright, play upright, support in the axis and on the sides.” I’ve had this game for myself since I was little.

On your try against Exeter, you performed a “duponade” with a support run in front of the ball carrier (read below). Was Antoine Dupont, who brought this novelty to the game for years, a Source of inspiration?

I try to do this kind of race when I’m not tackled or stampeded just after making the pass (smile). On this particular sequence, I was available and I had a little time. I noticed that there was a gap and potentially Matthis (Lebel, Editor’s note) who could overflow. So I tried to anticipate but it’s hard to do so on all the actions. Antoine succeeds because he has the physical and tactical qualities for it. He feels the game and, as number 9, he quickly goes to support. If it doesn’t score behind, he must be the first to eject the ball. It’s more specific to his position but, when I can anticipate things, I can also get started. I’m not the only one by the way. In training, several guys succeed. Well, on this test, I gave Antoine a bit of a shock all the same!

Picture A.
Picture A.

See image A.

This wide shot is located in the action deciphered above. Faced with the English defense tightened (blue line) by the good work in the axis of Toulouse, a surplus emerges with four players (black circles) that Romain Ntamack logically serves. During this time, as we have seen, Dupont (red circle) had already analyzed everything about the situation…

Picture B.
Picture B.

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Kinghorn having fixed the penultimate English defender (blue circle) the space is free out wide for Ahki and Lebel (black arrows) facing the English rear (white arrow). And during this time, the Dupont – Ntamack hinge (red arrows) has already projected itself forward, even if it means anticipating their support race in advance in relation to the ball, to their partners, and especially to the defense…

Image C.
Image C.

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Ahki (black circle) plays his two against one to perfection on the English back for Lebel. And during this time, confident in their partners, Dupont and Ntamack have already beaten the entire English defense by throwing themselves behind its back. All that remains is to deliver the blow…

Image D.
Image D.

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The acceleration of Lebel (black circle) allowed him to put all his partners back into play. Dupont and Ntamack are thus present inside, with Paul Costes who made the effort to arrive in the axis to complete the structure “in diamond”. Which could have allowed the Stadistes to extend the movement, again and again, if by chance other defenders had faced them…

Why ?

Because, if it wasn’t me who was there, he was the one who was going to score! We laugh about it too, when it happens to others. I really believe that Antoine brought us that. Aaron Smith did it very often with the All Blacks and Highlanders as well, and he scored countless tries this way. It inspires us all, but it’s not easy because it requires a lot of energy. These are things that are done instinctively, without thinking too much.

Toulouse’s playing culture is also this mantra: “The carrier is responsible for the ball, the supports are responsible for the carrier.” How does this translate into practice? After crossing, does priority go to the bearer, to whom the supports must manage to provide a solution, or is it more up to the player who has crossed not to isolate himself and to “wait” for his partners?

It’s a bit of both. The porter, when he crosses, has done the hardest work. But, if he throws the ball anywhere behind, it’s no use… Really, in terms of responsibilities, it’s 50-50. We come back to exactly what we work on in training: the carrier can cross. Then, if he is able to score, he must do so. Otherwise, he must wait for support if they are a little late. But they absolutely must make the effort to come as close as possible to him. This is why, during the week, we have very intensive training sessions, where we run a lot and where there are necessarily many crossings. It’s not something innate at the start, but we have to experience these situations during the week to better master them on the weekend. Clearly, the carrier is responsible for the ball but the supports are responsible for the continuity of the game. Everyone has their responsibilities.

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