Leinster know they must be Costes efficient to curb young Toulouse centre

Paul Costes, who is already on course to surpass the feats of his famous father, hopes to add the Champions Cup to his roll of honour

Paul Costes doesn’t hang around. A French Top 14 title winner with Toulouse in his debut season, he followed that feat up last summer in Cape Town by claiming another piece of silverware as a member of the France team that gained the Under-20 World Championship crown, beating Richie Murphy’s Ireland in the final.

On Saturday the gifted centre is expected to be named in the Toulouse side to take on Leinster in the Champions Cup final at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium in London; a little over a month after celebrating his 21st birthday.

After playing just over a handful of matches for the club last season, he has made 18 appearances to date in the current campaign between Europe and the Top 14 and established himself alongside Pita Ahki as the midfield combination preferred by head coach Ugo Mola.

The highlight reel is impressive. Technically his tackling is a throwback to an old-school iteration, low and round the ankles. He is resilient over the ball in the jackal position. And he is a prime exponent of the one-handed, reverse flick offload out of contact, which he more often than not takes on his terms. He’s got a nuanced range of passing, runs good lines and is quick.


Costes also possesses good rugby genes. His father Arnaud, a flanker, played in two World Cups, won a European Challenge Cup with Montferrand, also lined out for Castres, Bourgoin and Béziers and claimed the last of his 13 caps for France against Ireland at the Stade de France in the 2000 Six Nations.

The Toulouse club currently boasts a proud legacy of sons following in fathers’ rugby boot prints: Joshua Brennan, Romain Ntamack, Alexandre Roumat, Paul Graou, Arthur Bonneval, Arthur Retière and Matthis Lebel, have all done so. That makes for a fair smattering of proud dads.

Arnaud Costes spoke about what it was like watching his son make his debut against Bayonne last season: “When you see your child, like any father or mother, leaving the bench and ready to go for the first time, there is something that happens: the heart beat harder, my legs shook, and we hoped that he was going to have a blast.”

He needn’t have worried; his son made a positive impression and hasn’t looked back since. Paul Costes was untroubled by doubts. “It depends on the character. Each person is different. But the fact that we are very early in a professional context has something to do with it.

“Young players have been sharing training with the pros for quite some time, are ready earlier and earlier and have experience that allows them to adapt to situations.” That is borne out by Costes and the player whom he played alongside in the France Under-20 midfield, the Bordeaux phenomenon Nicolas Depoortère.

As a pair they did a fair bit of damage to Ireland’s hopes in that final. If Leinster’s Jamie Osborne needs a first-hand appraisal of Costes’s quality he can ask his younger brother, Andrew, who played on the wing for the Irish 20s that day.

Costes was introduced to the game at the Toulouse University club (TUC) before moving to Colomiers and then, in 2018, heading back to Toulouse to join his current club. He combines his rugby with studying for a business management degree.

He won a French championship with the Espoirs before injury and international commitments gave him a first chance to play for the senior team against Bayonne in October 2022. His father recalled: “At [Stade] Jean-Dauger there is a soul, an atmosphere, and it was good that he discovered the Top 14 there.

“He [Paul] was happy. He was amazed by the people, the noise in the stadium. He was quite satisfied with his performance, and especially with not having made any mistakes. He told me: ‘It was funny to me, at one point I had [Maxime] Machenaud and [Camille] Lopez next to me, and I had seen them on TV a few weeks before.’”

The young centre went on to play a further four matches that season. Now he is very much first choice alongside former Connacht centre Ahki, whom he credits with making him a better defender.

He explained: “I try to arrive with a lot of speed into the zone and tackle as quickly as possible. I was inspired by Pita Ahki. Attack the legs very low with a lot of speed in the upper body [with] the right timing at the right time.”

Costes is not afraid to take risks, emboldened by youthful nerve. “The more active you are, the more opportunities you will have in 80 minutes,” he said. “We have to keep this energetic side. I have to evolve physically and work on all aspects of my game.”

A duel with Leinster’s Osborne in whatever capacity would be a captivating watch. Three years ago, when Toulouse won a fifth European title, Costes took in the game at home on television. On Saturday he swaps the sofa for a place as a centre of attention. Leinster know they will have to be Costes efficient to limit his influence. ,No easy task this season.