Willis feels 'freer' as Toulouse face Quins test

Jack Willis carries the ball
Jack Willis joined Toulouse in November 2022 after Wasps went into administration [Getty Images]

Investec Champions Cup semi-final

Venue: Stadium de Toulouse Date: Sunday 5 May Time: 15:00 BST

Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra; live text updates on BBC Sport website and app

Toulouse flanker Jack Willis says he no longer puts pressure on himself to perform and is thriving in the south of France.

Willis initially joined Toulouse on a short-term deal after former club Wasps went into administration, before signing a three-year contract in April 2023.

The 27-year-old won the Top 14 title last season but says he now feels "freer" in his mind as Toulouse gear up to face Harlequins on Sunday in the Champions Cup semi-finals, with a domestic and European double still available.

"From a rugby point of view, I have learned to give it everything I can during the week but also take a bit of pressure off myself," said Willis.

"You have lots going through your mind and you need to organise things correctly or it can become quite exhausting and bog you down.

"I have been doing some great work with the psychologist and it frees me up going into games."

Five-time winners Toulouse are the most successful club in the history of the Champions Cup and booked their place in the last four as they saw off a spirited Exeter side in the quarter-finals.

Willis has won 14 England caps but is ineligible for Test selection because of a Rugby Football Union (RFU) rule that means players can only be picked for the national team if they compete in the Premiership.

The flanker, however, is relishing playing alongside stars such as France internationals Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack, and Scotland's Blair Kinghorn.

He added: "When I first came I only signed for a few months and then I made the decision to extend with good reason.

"It's an incredible place with a great group of players, coaches, and people around the club.

"It's so competitive and it really tests you as a player. When everyone is fit you have to be at your absolute best to be picked and I love that."

Willis says the club's European pedigree is also not lost on him.

"When it comes to Europe, it is incredibly special," said Willis. "We have such a rich history in the competition and they are so passionate to add to that.

"The president pushes the coaching staff and the coaching staff push us and we all want to win things. This group has the belief but we know how much hard work that means."

Evans 'is a threat' to us

Willis' opposite number and fellow Englishman Will Evans is enjoying an influential season for Quins, without yet winning the attention of England head coach Steve Borthwick.

Evans' expertise in stealing possession at the breakdown has come to the fore in the Premiership this term.

"Will is a great player, incredible over the ball and dangerous to how we want to play," said Willis.

"We want a flowing attack and to look after the ball but he is a threat to that, so we have to nullify him as much as we can.

"It's a mutual respect. I always keep an eye on him and like to see him making a turnover or two."

Harlequins are playing in their first Champions Cup semi-final after edging a thrilling last-eight tie in Bordeaux but Willis is all too aware of the challenge they will pose.

He added: "If you give them an inch they will take a mile. When they play and gain momentum, their chests puff out and off they go.

"It is so crucial to get going early and not let what happened to Bordeaux happen to us."