Toulouse backs coach Jean-Baptiste Elissalde couldn’t help crowing after his side’s impressive defeat of Stade Francais last Saturday, writes Gavin Mortimer.
In front of 80,000 fans at the Stade de France, Toulouse warmed up for this weekend’s trip to Edinburgh with a clinical 22-18 victory to consolidate their position at the head of the Top 14. Afterwards Elissalde tweeted: “Regards our match, 14 Frenchman out of 15 in the starting line-up, and four players under 21 [in the squad]. Not bad, eh?”
For those of a statistical bent, the outsider was Fijian winger Timoci Matanavou and the quartet of rookies were No8 Gillian Galan, scrum-half Jean-Marc Doussain, front rower Victor Paquet and hooker Christopher Tolofua. Anyone who breaks into the Toulouse squad so young is guaranteed a rosy future but the 18-year-old Tolofua has the makings of the next Manu Tuilagi.
Dimitri Szarzewski, the France hooker who packed down opposite Tolofua on Saturday, calls him a “force of nature”, adding that: “He’s an explosive player, and an intelligent one, and he’s immensely gifted. He’s got a great future ahead of him.” Szarzewski came off second best against the rampaging Tolofua at the Stade de France, an irony that wasn’t lost on the 61-cap veteran. He’s known the teenager since he was nine, ever since he began his own professional career with Beziers where he packed down alongside prop Abraham Tolofua – the uncle of Christopher. “I saw him grow up,” said Szarzewski before the match against Toulouse. “To play opposite him will be really strange. I would never have imagined it.”
The family background of Tolofua isn’t that dissimilar to the aforementioned Tuilagi. Born on the island of Wallis and Futuna in French Polynesia in December 1993, Christopher came to France as a young boy with his parents and three brothers, all of whom are passionate rugby players. Having played for France Under 18 and Under 19, Tolofua was expected to continue his development this season at Toulouse. But in January the club suffered an injury crisis at hooker with Gary Botha breaking his leg and Akvsenti Giorgadze tearing his groin. With William Servat absent on Six Nations duty with France, Toulouse coach Guy Noves was left with no choice but to blood Tolofua ahead of time against Racing Metro. The result was spectacular. Tolofua did everything that was required of him in the set piece and in the loose his 6ft and 18 stone frame caused havoc in the Racing ranks – as the clip below shows.
“We knew he had potential,” grinned Noves after Toulouse’s defeat of Racing. “You hope for a performance like that but until they play, you never know. He’s got a great future.”
With Servat having retired from Test rugby, and Szarzewski no longer the force he once was, France coach Philippe Saint-Andre would be a fool not to take Tolofua on their summer tour to Argentina. As England have shown with Owen Farrell and Wales with George North, if a player’s good enough then age is just an irrelevance.