Emmanuel Meafou Interview: ‘We haven’t played our best rugby against Leinster - but now we are super ready’

Emmanuel Meafou scored in last year's semi-final loss against Leinster

This Saturday, the pinnacle of European Rugby will be held at one of the grandest stages the United Kingdom has to offer. 

The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium will play host to the Investec Champions Cup final as Leinster and Toulouse battle it out to be crowned Kings of Europe.

The French side will be looking to add a historic sixth star to their jersey, with their last title coming in 2021 at Twickenham.

On the other hand, Leinster have had their recent struggles in the competition. They have been runners-up in the last two seasons, losing both times to La Rochelle.

However, they knocked out the current champions in this year’s quarter-finals and will no doubt be heading into Saturday intending to secure a win as they look to equal Toulouse’s record of five European titles.

The last time the two sides met was as recently as the 2023 semi-finals, with the boys in blue sealing a 41-22 victory at the Aviva Stadium.

Yellow cards shown to Thomas Ramos and Rodrigue Neti were punished by Leinster and one of Toulouse's try scorers on the day - Emmanuel Meafou - is hoping the French outfit can exact their revenge in North London.

“We feel we haven’t played our best rugby against Leinster, and that’s been due to several factors, including inexperience and discipline,” said Meafou, who made his debut for France in this year’s Six Nations.

“But the situation is different this time. We’re not in Dublin and it’s a major final, so all the boys are super up for it and ready to play. We want to put our best foot forward and see how the result goes but that requires changing our attitude around discipline and keeping 15 men on the field.”

Toulouse have bolstered their squad since last year's loss bringing in the likes of All Blacks prop Nepo Laulala and Scotland full-back Blair Kinghorn, who has been a revelation for the side. 

The Top 14 club can boast a very strong teamsheet, with world-class talent from a variety of nations spread from 1 to 23.

If Leinster win on Saturday, it will end their six-year wait for the title whereas a Toulouse triumph would further cement their place at the top table of European rugby.

Despite this, Meafou is adamant that talk of glory and history has not been the focus of the squad this week.

“I’m sure all the fans and media are thinking about it, but for us as a squad, it hasn’t been mentioned. We’re not focused that far ahead. We want to be the best club in Europe, and a win on Saturday shows that.”

Toulouse have had a strong domestic season, currently first in the Top 14 and qualified for the knockout rounds. 

They’ve paired that success with an impressive run towards their eighth Champions Cup final, beating Gallagher Premiership duo Exeter Chiefs and Harlequins in the quarter and semi-finals respectively.

Both of those victories were on home territory with the backing of the infamous Toulouse support so travelling to North London could present a different challenge.

However, they did taste glory in the English capital three years ago and Meafou said, “I think the neutral venue helps this time. It’s never nice when you’ve got 50,000 Irish fans yelling at you, so it’s kind of hard to get into your game.

“No matter where the game is, we still want to play our brand of rugby, and we’re focused on ourselves and what we can control.”

Leinster are in a slightly different boat heading into Saturday. They suffered a defeat against Ulster last week in the United Rugby Championship, dropping to third in the standings.

Admittedly, it was a much-changed side which travelled to Belfast but since they beat La Rochelle in the last eight of the Champions Cup, you could argue Leinster have lost their way a little.

Leo Cullen’s side have been beaten by both the Lions and the Stormers in South Africa, and despite victory in the Champions Cup semi-finals against Northampton Saints, a poor second-half performance suggests the momentum could be with Toulouse. 

“We’re definitely aware of Leinster’s strengths,” said Meafou. “We know they like fast starts in the opening half, where they come hard in attack, and we’ve been working a lot on our defence to make sure we limit those breaks.

“But we’re also aware it’s an 80-minute game. The last time they were in a final, La Rochelle beat them right at the death so we know this game isn't going to be won or lost in the first 40 minutes, but it’s going to go the whole way, and we’re ready to go the whole way.”

If Leinster are to avoid a repeat of the heartache they felt in 2022 and 2023, perhaps the addition of double World Cup-winning Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber will be the difference.

After successive losses in European finals, his tactical understanding and experience of winning on the big stage could be the cog in the Leinster machine which they have been missing in recent times. 

So what can we expect from the two sides at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday?

Well, there have been some suggestions that this game is the World Cup final that we never got.

After both France and Ireland were knocked out of last year’s quarter-finals, these two clubs are not only full of international talent from their respective countries but heavily reflect the way they play the game.

For France and Toulouse, it is all about that French flair.

One international star it’s hard to take your eyes off is the Toulouse captain Antoine Dupont. 

After a brief spell in the France 7s set up ahead of the Olympics, he is only adding more and more to his game. He epitomises exactly the attacking philosophy that Toulouse employ across the park.

“The boys in the club joke around and call him ‘The Martian’,” Meafou says. “He’s not from this earth sometimes with what he can pull out on the pitch. He’s really grown into that leadership role and is undoubtedly the best player in the world.

“Here at Toulouse, the DNA is to play and keep the ball alive, and this brand of rugby is encouraged all the way through the academy. We train it a lot, and every player throughout the squad is encouraged to play the same no matter what number you’ve got on your back.

“This squad expects to win. We’ve been successful historically, and we want to keep it that way. We set the bar high for ourselves. We know what we’re capable of. Even though our recent success rate against Leinster hasn’t been positive, we like our chances, and we’re going to give it our best.

“No matter the stage of the game, whenever we have the ball, our mentality is to go out there and score points. As everyone knows, our brand of rugby is quick. We want to offload and keep the ball alive, so we want to do that any chance we get.”


European Rugby Champions Cup Points Table