Jack Willis devastating as Toulouse score seven second-half tries to rout Exeter

Jack Willis runs in a try for Toulouse
Willis's ball-carrying has improved markedly since his move to France - AFP/VALENTINE CHAPUIS

Toulouse 64 Exeter Chiefs 26

They treat the players as rock stars at the Stade Ernest-Wallon with 5,000 people waiting more than two hours in near 30C heat just to greet the arrival of the team bus. Jack Willis duly played like he was in Guns N’ Roses, helping Toulouse to unleash a brand of heavy metal that left Exeter a quivering wreck by the end of a brutal second half in which they shipped seven tries.

From the moment that Willis stepped off the coach and walked through the parade of assorted drum bands, ticker tape and mass of flags with a steely look on his face it was clear he had come to play. While he was penalised a couple of times at the breakdown, he soon got his jackalling timing spot on to start forcing turnovers and penalties at will.

Willis’ ability over the ball has always been excellent. Where he has really kicked on, since joining Toulouse when Wasps went into administration, is in his ball-carrying. He finished the match having made more metres than any of Toulouse’s star-studded backline as well as beating ten players, more than double the next highest player: a certain Antoine Dupont.

Never was that honed skill more evident than when he handed off Harvey Skinner into a distant planet en route to scoring his first try that gave Toulouse a narrow half-time lead and led to 19,000 Frenchmen chanting his name.

“That means a lot,” said Willis, who even nailed his press conference in French. “Hopefully that means that I am winning them over slowly. It [ball-carrying] is always a focus for me. I want to make sure that I am not just adding in defence, I am adding in attack as well. I do a lot of extra work on leg-drive stuff with a couple of the boys here and sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t. I haven’t watched the game back yet, it was so hot that my head is still spinning.”

Of course, by signing a contract extension at Toulouse, Willis is now ineligible to play for England. The debate around the Rugby Football Union will rage on social media, even if Willis is resigned to being in international purgatory. The best bet would be to tempt him back to the Premiership. But then that would assume the 27-year-old would want to leave a ground, whose atmosphere rivals that of any Test match. It might also be said that Toulouse offers a slightly better lifestyle than Coventry.

“I love it here,” Willis said. “The club are great and they have really helped my family settle in here and that’s something that I put at the forefront of my decision-making of what’s best for my family and my two little children. We want to make sure that we are really enjoying things.

“I try and soak it in every time [stepping off the bus]. I love it. You don’t get used to it. I think it gets better and better and especially in games like this, I absolutely love it. The passion out here is incredible. You could feel that today.”

Yet neither Willis nor Toulouse had everything their own way. Somewhat astonishingly given the final score, Exeter actually led early in the second half thanks to Henry Slade’s fourth penalty. Like Devonian poachers, they had succeeded in ruffling the feathers of Europe’s preeminent aristocrats by making the breakdown a bunfight. They also led for large chunks of the first half with Ethan Roots scoring from Rusi Tuima’s no-look pass.

At that stage, there was genuine optimism that Exeter could follow Harlequins’ example against Bordeaux and make it a hat-trick of Champions Cup victories for Premiership clubs. Whatever followed after half-time, Exeter can be proud of their first-half performance with the likes of Ross Vintcent and Olly Woodburn taking the fight to their more celebrated opponents.

Earlier in the competition, this young group of players had succeeded in getting under the skin of Toulon. Against Toulouse, they merely succeeded in poking a ferocious bear. What followed was akin to an outlawed bloodsport with Toulouse scoring four tries in ten breathless minutes. Scottish full back Blair Kinghorn scored twice as did centre Pita Ahki and wing Juan Cruz Mallia while the loudest cheer was reserved for Dupont’s try.

Antoine Dupont scores Toulouse's sixth try
Antoine Dupont scores Toulouse's sixth try

“The truth is, this just showed where we are as a team,” Rob Baxter, Exeter’s director of rugby, said. “I just don’t think we could hold it together for much longer than we did until half-time. Once Toulouse got into that off-loading game it was just try, try, try, try. We were chasing shadows then a little bit.”

Toulouse now welcome Harlequins back into the lion’s den for the semi-finals which will be full of fascinating head-to-head contests, not least in Will Evans going up against Willis in the battle of the jackals. “He is certainly someone we will be eyeing up to prep for come the semi final,” Willis said. “Quins were brilliant. They came out of the blocks early and shocked Bordeaux. It looked like they caught them off guard. We tried our best not to do that. Exeter still came at us pretty hard. It will be a great game and I will be pretty excited.”

French side run riot after break: As it happened...

05:14 PM BST


Daniel Schofield’s report from Toulouse will be on this page shortly.

And be sure to check back in with us over the next few days for all the reaction and analysis from a great weekend of European rugby.

Those semi-finals look tasty!

Thanks for following with us.

05:11 PM BST

Jack Willis, Toulouse flanker, to TNT

Absolutely chuffed. We were really disappointed with the first half. I wasn’t happy with a couple of penalties and we weren’t happy with our discipine.

We had to wear them down. It took a few phases but we got there in the end. Looking forward to the semi-final.

I have a lot of good mates [at Harlequins] and I was cheering them on [in Bordeaux]. We know how dangerous they can be. It was a good reminder. I always get a bit of stick but [the English] have got something in us!

05:07 PM BST

Brian O’Driscoll

He thinks Toulouse are favourites now.

I’m not convinced. Leinster have had their number for many years.

That said, both sides need to get beyond a strong Premiership challenge first!

05:06 PM BST

Jerome Kaino, Toulouse assistant, to TNT

Extremely proud. They put us under a lot of pressure in the first half and we couldn’t keep the ball as long as we wanted to.

Extremely proud of how the boys came out in the second half against a world-class outfit.

Dupont was not getting clean ball in the first half so we wanted to hold onto the ball more.

We’re very excited to take on Harlequins. To be able to earn another week in this competition is awesome. An extremely happy camp but we haven’t won anything yet.

05:00 PM BST


Two English, an Irish and a French.

Who would have had money on that at the start of the season?

(Not me!)

Realistically, though, the smart money is on a Leinster v Toulouse final in north London. And the French have a ropey record against the Irish province.

04:56 PM BST

Champions Cup semi-finals

Saturday May 4, 5.30pm

Leinster v Northampton, Croke Park, Dublin

Sunday May 5, 3pm

Toulouse v Harlequins, Le Stadium, Toulouse

(Times BST)

04:53 PM BST

Full-time: TLS 64 EXE 26

That is that. Harlequins will travel to Toulouse in the semi-finals.

04:53 PM BST


It finishes at 64.

04:52 PM BST


Goodness me it’s 60.

Exeter try and conjure a final attack but the ball squirts out the side of the ruck. Costes feeds Mallia and he has a 40-metre run-in to score unopposed.

04:50 PM BST

77 mins: TLS 59 EXE 26

Toulouse have just gone the length off the restart, with Marchand and Brennan toying with the Exeter defence.

The hosts are over the line again in the form of Marchand but Cros’s offload to the hooker was forward and Exeter’s reward is a scrum in the shadow of their own posts.

04:48 PM BST


No respite for Exeter, as Ramos adds two more.

Costes is the official player of the match but it could easily have been Willis or Ahki or Kinghorn (who scored a hat-trick!).

04:47 PM BST


It’s a second for Ahki and it’s turning into a rout.

Willis was again at the heart, breaking tackles after nice handling from Roumat and Chocobares.

Flament gives the scoring pass to Ahki and the centre strolls over.

04:46 PM BST

73 mins: TLS 52 EXE 26

Exeter sniffed another score, but they are physically bullied. It all comes to an end when Street comes in at the side.

Well beaten today, Exeter, despite the noble effort.

04:43 PM BST

Toulouse letting rip

04:42 PM BST

72 mins: TLS 52 EXE 26

Wimbush punches a hole but he’s isolated and no one can remove limpet Marchand from the ball.

Toulouse attack, Willis - one of the hosts’ best today - carries like a truck but the offload doesn’t go to hand.

It doesn’t matter. Exeter will restart with a scrum but the result is assured.

04:39 PM BST


That’s elementary for Ramos.

04:38 PM BST


Fifty up for Toulouse, as phase after phase they hammer the Exeter door.

Eventually, the Chiefs, despite their admirable defence, run out of numbers, and a long pass from Ntamack sends Mallia over.

04:34 PM BST

The crucial score

04:33 PM BST


The scoreline looks more respectable now for the Chiefs, which their efforts deserve.

I’m not getting excited yet, though.

04:32 PM BST


Hello! Something for the Chiefs to believe in.

With a bit of deception - and with Haydon-Wood now on for Skinner - Slade sends Wimbush through the midfield to score.

04:28 PM BST


Kinghorn is off, Ramos is on, but there’s no change in proceedings.

Dupont departs now, too. Graou is on.

04:27 PM BST


I can’t keep up!

It’s a length-of-the-field move, off the restart! Exeter will be disappointed with letting Willis through off the kick-off but once Toulouse are in behind, with their tails off, it’s sumptuous. Costes - again - sends Mallia down the flank, before the wing feeds Ramos. Dupont is in support on the inside, stepping Hodge to score.

04:25 PM BST


In an instant, the game is gone. Kinghorn, the hat-trick hero, slots a touchline conversion and Toulouse now lead by 19.

04:24 PM BST



Was there a forward pass? Maybe, but it’s stunning rugby. Lebel soars to claim the high ball and Toulouse are off again.

Ahki and Costes combine delightfully - and the latter’s offload is a peach - before Mallia feeds Kinghorn on the inside for his hat-trick.

04:22 PM BST

54 mins: TLS 31 EXE 19

Exeter are reeling here. Feyi-Waboso knocks on and Toulouse are off. Dupont and Ntamack combine, with the fly-half slicing through.

He feeds Kinghorn but Feyi-Waboso gets back excellently to bring the Scot down and dislodge the ball.

That would have been the ball game.

04:20 PM BST


Faultless from Kinghorn and that’s now a 12-point lead for the hosts, the largest either side has had so far.

04:19 PM BST


And it gets even worse.

It’s a practical walk-in for Ahki, as an inside ball off the top of the line-out sends Lebel searing through, before the wing feeds Ahki to score under the sticks.

Game over? If it’s not, Exeter need something - fast.

04:18 PM BST

51 mins: TLS 24 EXE 19

A soft penalty from Skinner gives Toulouse field position, and they will throw into a line-out just outside the Exeter 22.

Exeter haven’t had the greatest few minutes.

04:16 PM BST


Kinghorn converts his own try, his second of the match.

Both teams ring the changes, with Pearson, Southworth on for Exeter and Flament on for Toulouse.

04:14 PM BST


The lead switches again! Exeter do a good job at defusing the Toulouse maul but the hosts’ speed and power is too much, metres away from the line.

With the Chiefs sucked in, there’s space for Kinghorn to swerve over.

04:13 PM BST

46 mins: TLS 17 EXE 19

Penalty Toulouse as Exeter make a hash of the restart and, after a silky first-phase move which sends Dupont through a half-gap, Fisilau is penalised for not rolling away.

Toulouse go to the corner, turning down the three. A big moment.

04:10 PM BST


The Chiefs have a slender lead!

Painter departs, too, for Street, while Vintcent is having to go off for an HIA.

If so, why is Arnold’s tackle not being looked at?

04:08 PM BST

42 mins: TLS 17 EXE 16

A nervy start from Toulouse as they let the restart bounce but, after a line-out, Dupont clears well.

Skinner and Cairns have a dart with Exeter establishing some momentum, but Arnold has cleared Vintcent up off the ball and Slade will have an early shot at goal.

04:05 PM BST

The players are back out

And we are ready for the second half

04:05 PM BST


It looked as though Toulouse head coach Ugo Mola was really laying down the law at half-time.

Hold onto your hats!

03:53 PM BST

Willis’ try

03:52 PM BST

Half-time: TLS 17 EXE 16

Dupont boots it off and that is that.

A cracking half for the neutral and, I dare say, not a bad one for Chiefs fans, either. They’re in this.

Toulouse have some serious cavalry off the bench but the Exeter are causing the hosts issues with the ball.

One move at the end of the half, aside, Feyi-Waboso is causing Toulouse issues; so, too, his back-three mates Hodge and Woodburn. If they can get a little bit more front-foot ball, they’ll fancy their chances.

03:50 PM BST

40 mins: TLS 17 EXE 16

The final thrust of the half comes to nothing as Feyi-Waboso is stripped by Ntamack.

What was it I was saying in my previous post? Oops.

03:48 PM BST

38 mins: TLS 17 EXE 16

Sublime from Feyi-Waboso, cutting the Toulouse defence to ribbons.

Exeter are into the hosts’ 22 but the wing is isolated and Cros wins the holding-on penalty.

Incidentally, Feyi-Waboso is not touching the ball nearly enough. When he does, things happen.

03:46 PM BST

36 mins: TLS 17 EXE 16

A promising Exeter attack ends with Costes bundling Vintcent into touch. Earlier, Meafou absolutely flattened Feyi-Waboso - tremendous agility from a big bloke.

Toulouse are in the ascendancy here. Another score before half-time could be critical.

03:43 PM BST


The lead changes hands again.

What a terrific game.

03:42 PM BST


Wow. What a finish! Toulouse work the blindside and there doesn’t seem to be much on, but Willis runs straight over Skinner after a good Ahki offload and Painter does not have the pace to cover.

Again, in an instant, Toulouse cross the white-wash.

03:40 PM BST

31 mins: TLS 10 EXE 16

Hearts in mouths for Exeter as a Dupont counter-ruck frees the ball inside their 22. Lebel hacks on, over the goal-line, but Slade just about gets back in time.

Goal-line drop-out for the Chiefs.

03:38 PM BST


It’s a fourth successful kick at goal from Slade, and Exeter’s lead is six.

03:38 PM BST

27 mins: TLS 10 EXE 13

Exeter get away with a squint line-out, sending Vincent charging in midfield.

Willis comes in the side to steal the ball, the referee tells him no, the flanker does it anyway, and he is penalised.

Slade points to the sticks.

03:37 PM BST

27 mins: TLS 10 EXE 13

A poor pass from Cairns to Jenkins leads to a knock-on and Toulouse will put into a scrum inside their own half.

A bit of a let-off, that.

Toulouse clear with a box-kick which is impressively taken by Woodburn. Roumat smells a turnover but referee Busby deems the No 8 to have been off his feet.

Another popular decision in south-west France. And back comes Mauvaka.

03:32 PM BST

24 mins: TLS 10 EXE 13

So, in trying to tackle Dupont over the line, the ball has come off Vintcent’s elbow in-goal and so we restart with a goal-line drop-out.

Vintcent caught Dupont in the head but they were both extremely low so referee Busby says it was all legal.

03:30 PM BST

24 mins: TLS 10 EXE 13

You can’t take your eyes off it!

Baille throws into the line-out and the Toulouse maul is motoring but the loosehead breaks away. A few phases later, Toulouse look to spread it wide but the passing is inaccurate.

Hodge hacks and he’s haring after it! Lebel wins the foot race, taking the ball into his in-goal area, and under pressure from Vintcent and Hodge the wing just about manages to ground the ball in the goal-line scramble.

It’s quite chaotic, and the TMO is having a look at it all.

03:28 PM BST

Exeter’s try

03:26 PM BST


It’s a fabulous strike from the Scot, from 40 metres out, and Exeter’s lead is just three.

03:25 PM BST

20 mins: TLS 7 EXE 13

After a touch of kick-tennis, Kinghorn puts his foot through it an Exeter will throw in on their own 10-metre line.

But the attack is scrappy. Exeter look to go wide but Cairns knocks on and then Roots handles on the floor. Penalty to Toulouse and they will go for goal.

03:23 PM BST

Toulouse’s opener

03:22 PM BST


Slade adds the extras and Exeter lead by six with Toulouse down a man.

03:21 PM BST


A set move. Cairns hits Tuima who pops blindly inside to Roots who powers over.

The boos ring around the Stade Ernest-Wallon but the try stands.

This is spicy!

03:20 PM BST


Exeter find Woodburn wide on the left first phase and the wing does tremendously well to bust a couple of tackles and take the Chiefs to within five.

There looks to have been a knock-on from Exeter but Chris Busby thinks they’re both backwards.

Mauvaka is penalised on his own line for interfering with the ball on the floor - and he’s off to the bin!

Exeter tap and go...

03:17 PM BST

15 mins: TLS 7 EXE 6

Sloppy from Ntamack. Under little pressure, just outside his own 22, he drops a simple pass from Dupont.

Chiefs will put in with a fabulous attacking platform.

03:15 PM BST


It’s good and Toulouse’s lead is just one point.

03:14 PM BST

13 mins: TLS 7 EXE 3

Physical Chiefs defence from the kick-off sees Meafou held up and the ball won for Exeter.

A couple of phases later and Meafou is offending at the ruck.

Slade will have a shot to make it a one-point game.

03:11 PM BST


A perfect response from Toulouse, with the Scot adding the extras.

03:11 PM BST


Oh, that was a bit easy.

Exeter do well to repel Toulouse at close quarters, with Devoto putting Dupont under pressure and Roots hammering Arnold. But the Chiefs are sucked in and when Toulouse spin the ball wide, Lebel is away down the left before feeding Ntamack inside for what turned out to be a pretty routine score.

In the blink of an eye.

03:07 PM BST


A great start for Exeter and the visitors have the lead.

03:07 PM BST

5 mins: TLS 0 EXE 0

Penalty Chiefs!

Straight from the scrum, Cairs turns Roumat over on the floor. Exeter keep it tight and Meafou and Baille are penalised for a ruck infringement.

Slade will go for goal.

03:06 PM BST

4 mins: TLS 0 EXE 0

Oh it’s a silky start from the Chiefs - and they come within metres of an opening try.

Only a fabulous last-gasp tackle from Ntamack on Slade prevents a certain score. There is a slight knock-on in the recycle and Toulouse will put in.

Feyi-Waboso, Woodburn and Roots all carried impressively in the phases building up to that.

Exeter have come to play!

03:04 PM BST

2 mins: TLS 0 EXE 0

Early penalty to Exeter as Roumat is penalised for going off his feet, just as Toulouse were looking to establish some attacking rhythm.

Skinner kicks into the Toulouse half and Exeter will throw in.

03:02 PM BST


Ntamack gets us under way.

A reminder that Toulouse have not lost at Stade Ernest-Wallon in two years and Exeter have not won away from home in 2024...

03:00 PM BST

Here come the teams!

And kick-off is just moments away.

02:52 PM BST

A familiar face in the Toulouse ranks

Jack Willis, the England flanker, starts at 6 for the hosts today.

Remember him? It is impressive how he has managed to reinvent himself and forge a career at one of Europe’s biggest clubs, but every time I see his name on the team sheet I’m always reminded of how much of a loss he is to England.

02:44 PM BST

Fifteen to kick-off

Can you see Exeter following Harlequins’s lead and pulling off an upset?

Let me know in the comments!

02:41 PM BST

A couple of stats...

... courtesy of myself and guru Russ Petty.

02:34 PM BST

In case you missed it...

You can catch up on all three of yesterday’s quarter-finals by clicking below.

Bordeaux 41 Harlequins 42

Leinster 40 La Rochelle 13

Northampton 59 Bulls 22

02:28 PM BST

Exeter’s welcome

02:25 PM BST

Toulouse’s bench

I tweeted earlier in the week that I have reported it to the authorities and a few days on my thoughts on it have not changed. Terrifying.

02:20 PM BST

Today’s line-ups

Toulouse starting XV: Blair Kinghorn; Juan Cruz Mallia, Paul Costes, Pita Ahki, Matthis Lebel; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (c); Cyril Baille, Peato Mauvaka, Dorian Aldegheri, Richie Arnold, Emmanuel Meafou, Jack Willis, François Cros, Alexandre Roumat.
Replacements: Julien Marchand, Rodrigue Neti, Joel Merkler, Thibaud Flament, Joshua Brennan, Paul Graou, Thomas Ramos, Santiago Chocobares.

Exeter starting XV: Josh Hodge; Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, Henry Slade, Ollie Devoto, Olly Woodburn; Harvey Skinner, Tom Cairns; Scott Sio, Jack Yeandle, Ehren Painter, Rus Tuima, Dafydd Jenkins (c), Ethan Roots, Christ Tshiunza, Ross Vintcent.
Replacements: Jack Innard, Danny Southworth, Marcus Street, Lewis Pearson, Greg Fisilau, Stu Townsend, Will Haydon-Wood, Zack Wimbush.

Referee: Chris Busby (Ireland)

01:41 PM BST

Good afternoon!

Hello and welcome to Telegraph Sport’s live coverage of this weekend’s fourth and final Champions Cup quarter-final, as Exeter travel to south-west France to take on European heavyweights, Toulouse.

After yesterday, with Harlequins stunning Bordeaux and Northampton dispatching Bulls, dare we dream about a third Premiership club in the Champions Cup semi-finals? Clearly, against the might of Toulouse, littered with stars, Exeter are outsiders. The Chiefs are yet to win an away match across any competition in 2024 and a trip to the Stade Ernest-Wallon would hardly be the first choice of European head coaches when trying to break that duck.

But these Chiefs arrive in Toulouse for what is virtually a free hit. No one fancies an Exeter victory but if they can mirror Harlequins’ fast start in the same country yesterday, they might dare to dream. Certainly, with players like Ross Vintcent, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso and Josh Hodge, Exeter have players who will hurt Toulouse in the click of the fingers if the game loosens up. The task for the Chief is stopping Toulouse, who possess a similar, more potent armoury. On Feyi-Waboso, specifically, the wing enjoying the breakout season to end all breakout seasons, Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter was full of praise this week.

“He is the closest replacement to a Jack Nowell we could have had, a guy who just gets you metres out of nowhere. And he is getting better at it,” Baxter said.

“He is only learning how to use those talents that he has. At least two of our tries [against Bath Rugby] came from momentum he gained almost on his own, at times when he didn’t deserve to get momentum. That shows his value.”

It was a shame, yesterday, that after the thrilling spectacle in Bordeaux, the ensuing two matches were somewhat drab. The neutral will be hoping for some more of that Bordeaux spirit this afternoon. Exeter fans, meanwhile, will be hoping for a repeat of the side’s remarkable victory in Toulon earlier in the competition.

The confirmed line-ups are next!

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.