EDINBURGH have the luxury of knowing that they can lose Saturday’s clash against Toulon and still have their destiny in their own hands in terms of qualification for the knock-out stages of the Champions Cup, but head coach Richard Cockerill has warned his players that a ‘half-arsed’ performance at the Stade Mayol will not be acceptable.
The capital outfit currently have 15 league points at the top of pool five, four clear of second placed Montpellier. Toulon, meanwhile, are rooted to the bottom of the table with just six points, meaning that this match is effectively (although not yet mathematically) a dead-rubber for them. Despite this, Cockerill expects head coach Patrice Collazo to pick his strongest side this weekend, and believes the home team will come out all guns blazing.
Toulon were a hapless bunch when Edinburgh defeated them 40-14 at Murrayfield back in October but this is going to be a very different proposition.
“They are a far better team at home and have improved hugely from the last time we played them,” he warned. “We have been physical and dominant in the last five games but may not have the luxury of that against such a big physical team, so we have to be accurate and move them around the field and take our opportunities when they come.
“We have to go and play our game. Things are not going to change much. They have some quality individuals who we know will cause us damage. It is a very hard place to go and win. Not many teams do it, certainly not in Europe. We have to work hard.
“I’d like us to go there and win, because then we’re playing for a home quarter-final when Montpellier come here [the following week]. You look at that Montpellier side and your eyes water at what that would cost – but I want us to take both [games].
“I don’t want us to go to Toulon and be a little bit half-arsed because we know that we’ve got another shot. If we can get anything from that game – a win or even two points – it gives us the best chance to qualify top and potentially be at home in the quarter final.
“The Pilou Pilou [Toulon’s haka-style pre-match chant] and all that stuff, it’s historically important for them and it’s a great show,” continued Cockerill, who coached at Toulon for a couple of months at the end of the 2016-17 season before joining Edinburgh. “The players come in by bus and walk through the crowd with the bands playing, and when you’re in that team it stands the hairs on the back of your neck up. They’ve got a city that really cares about their club and there’ll be 18,000 capacity crowd and they’ll be very partisan. But it’s a game of rugby, it’s a pitch and they can make noise and do what they like, it doesn’t make any difference to us – we’re just going to get on with our jobs.
Watch the Pilou Pilou being performed below –
“Any side that plays away in France, if they keep the game tight and play on top of the opposition, frustrates them and doesn’t let them get what they want, then the crowd will always get restless as they did in Montpellier when we went there.
“So, controlling the physical parts of the game – set-piece, scrum, line-out – will be vital. Toulon have a way of playing. The crowd will expect them to run the ball, offload and play nice rugby and win. To be fair when you have Rhys Webb, Francois Trinh-Duc, Anthony Belleau, Julian Savea, JP Pietersen, Josua Tuisova and so on, pressure is put on them because of that.
“We are not going to enter into a jamboree of playing. They are not dissimilar side to Glasgow in some ways. It is just they have a much bigger set of forwards. Marcel Van de Merwe [tight-head prop] is a Springbok, Guilhem Guirado [hooker] is the French captain, all those French loose-heads they’ve got are capped players, Juandre Kruger [second-row] is a Springbok, Romain Taofifénua [second-row] is a French international and Liam Messam [number eight] is an All Black. There’s a lot of experience and artillery in there.
“We’ve got to get past the names and then look at how they play and what they do, then look at how we play. When I look at the forward pack of ours to theirs, there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be competing and trying to better that forward pack – we’ve got believe in that.”
Cockerill added that his team’s only defeat in Europe so far this season – away to Montpellier in round one – was a turning point and will give the players belief that they can return to France and get a win this time.
“During that first 20 minutes we were just happy to compete, then when Stuart McInally scored the try we said ‘actually, we could do alright here’ – and the game turned on its head, didn’t it?
“I think it was that little bit of confidence that we needed. Coming away from Montpellier and actually being disappointed we lost was a big mental shift for us, I think. We know if we get it right we can compete with this teams.
“Are they good teams? Christ, they’re good sides. And if you get it wrong they will hurt you. But we know if we get it right [we can win these games]. And we’ve got a motivated group of players who want to prove themselves. Our lads haven’t been at this level before, we haven’t played these types of teams, so it’s an exciting challenge for us and one we want to take.
“We’ll give it full metal jacket and see where we get to because … why not? How much fun is this? It’s much better than being in Krasny Yar, I’ll tell you that!”
Cockerill being Cockerill, couldn’t resist a little bit of mischief-making to finish off the press conference.
“If the gods are looking down on us we could get Glasgow at home in a European quarter-final. How good would that be?” he asked.
When it was suggested that it would be better for the two Scots sides to meet in the semi-final, his retort was immediate.
“It doesn’t really matter, because we know the result don’t we,” he quipped, referencing the fact his team has just won back-to-back matches against their nearest and dearest rivals.