"Biggest Week in the Club's History" - Alex Dombrandt is Excited for Harlequins' First Ever Champions Cup Semi-Final - Ruck

“Biggest Week in the Club’s History” – Alex Dombrandt is Excited for Harlequins’ First Ever Champions Cup Semi-Final

By George Davis

Harlequins Number Eight Alex Dombrandt admits his side are excited for the club’s first ever Champions Cup semi-final, away to European powerhouse Toulouse. Harlequins travel to Southern France on Sunday to face one of the tournament’s most decorated teams, but Dombrandt still insists his side will show no fear.

“I haven’t seen any fear this week, only excitement. It’s the biggest week in the club’s history, it doesn’t really get bigger than this,” the Englishman added.

Alex Dombrandt, Captain of Harlequins during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Harlequins and Gloucester at Twickenham, London on 30 December 2023. Photo: George Beck/PPAUK

“At the start of the season we set out that we wanted to go deep in both competitions, and we are doing that. We are massively excited, the buzz around the place is something I haven’t seen for a long time. We are just going to go and give it a good crack.”

The England international was keen to stress his side’s willingness to go to France and impose their game onto the five-time champions. Dombrandt recognises the star-studded talent of the Toulousains but hammers home his believe in his London club.

“Belief is strong amongst the group.” Dombrandt said. “We’ve been to France a couple of times and beat Bordeaux and a very good Racing (92) team,” said the 27-year-old.

Try celebrations for Alex Dombrandt, Captain of Harlequins during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Harlequins and Gloucester at Twickenham, London on 30 December 2023. Photo: James Whitehead/PPAUK

“We have been there and had very good wins in France, so the squad is full of belief that we can go to Toulouse and get the job done. They are a team with superstars across the board, you have got to be smart with your kicking game, but we also know we are going to have to go there and score tries. We are going to go there and attack and take the game to them.”

Fresh off the back of two tries against Northampton in his first start for six months, Luke Northmore echoed his teammates’ confidence: “They are going to expect a run threat and they are definitely going to get a run threat.”

The scrums in France are a huge a problem, and is one that the Quins pack must navigate for a spot in the Champions Cup Final. Scrummaging against a French club side is no easy feat, and with the likes of an all-international front row of Cyrille Baille, Peato Mauvaka and Dorian Aldergheri, Will Collier and co will have to be on top form.

Harlequins player Will Collier during the Gallagher Premiership rugby game between Leicester Tigers and Harlequins at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Dec 5th – PHOTO: Steve Bond/PPAUK

“We have got a plan specific to them that hopefully we can implement,” said Collier. “They are huge, a very big pack so they are obviously going to weigh a fair bit more than us. In very simple terms we have to match them on the hit, that engage, we can’t let them win that.

“Especially if it’s on their ball and they get the hit, they can really start to pump their legs and drive through with (Emmanuel) Meafou, Baille, together they are a big old pack. They present quite different pictures; they don’t necessarily scrummage in a specific way, and they can deal with different threats.”

The scrum was a huge weapon for the West London side last time out in Europe, a youthful Finn Baxter and veteran Will Collier dismantling a big Bordeaux pack and that experience against French packs has been useful.

Will Collier of Harlequins on the break into Dave Ewers of Exeter Chiefs during the Gallagher Premiership match between Exeter Chiefs and Harlequins at Sandy Park on 4th June 2022. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“You see the passion they have when they celebrate scrums as a confrontation of their biggest men on the pitch. When they get scrum penalties they celebrate it like a try,” said the prop.

“It’s knowing we are going to have to take that away from them and more so hopefully put our game on them.

But Collier is still quick to highlight his own side’s forwards too.

“We are quite proud of the pack we have built to be able to match these massive packs.”

Harlequins suffered a demoralising 19-47 loss last time out to Toulouse in the group stage, but Head Coach Danny Wilson insists there was learnings to take from that game ahead of this weekend.

“We admitted as a coaching group we got a few things wrong, and we also played a very good Toulouse side. There are some superstars in there that played well for them that night,” added the former Glasgow Warriors Head Coach.

“Definitely some learnings from that, ultimately, we are playing a very good side with those learnings being taken into consideration into this week’s prep. A lot of rugby has happened since then, for them and for us, so I think we are in a very different situation to what we were in the group stages to a European semi-final.”

Wilson also admitted his side come into this weekend’s fixture as underdogs, a term his side he has relished over the last few weeks.

But one player they will have to stop is Antoine Dupont, arguably the best player in the world.

Antoine Dupont lifts the trophy as Toulouse are crowned Champions Cup champions after the European Champions Cup Final match between La Rochelle and Toulouse at Twickenham Stadium, London on May 22 2021. – PHOTO: Micah Crook/PPAUK

“That’s something we need to be aware of, one of, if not the world’s best player. But we have our own special players too that can create something out of nothing, so the same way we have got to deal with their special players they have got to deal with ours.”