IN THE build-up to big matches, teams tend to concentrate on their opponents’ weaknesses, not their accomplishments. This is probably just as well for Edinburgh Rugby as they look forward to their Heineken Cup quarter-final against Toulouse on Saturday.
Stade Toulousain, to give them their Sunday name, are beatable all right. Edinburgh have got the better of them in this very competition before. But when it comes to the crunch, the team from the south of France rise to the occasion, as they showed not long after that group-stages loss to the Scottish side when they won the quarter-final between the two teams.
The playing personnel have changed almost beyond recognition since that last-eight clash in 2004. What has not changed is the immense pride which Toulouse take in their status as the most successful team in the history of European club rugby’s premier competition. They were the first winners of the Heineken Cup back in 1996, and have since won it three times more – in 2003, 2005 and most recently two years ago. They have also been runners-up twice, in 2004 when they lost to Wasps, and 2008 when they were beaten by Munster. They are such a talented squad that the biggest threat to their success often comes from within themselves.
When they become too complacent, when they think all they have to do to win is turn on the style, they are susceptible to defeat by less gifted opponents.
As they approach this match, however, they appear to be leaving little or nothing to chance if the words of Clement Poitrenaud are indication. The full-back-cum-centre sat out his team’s victory against Stade Francais in Paris at the weekend but should be back for the Murrayfield match. Speaking to Toulouse’s official website, he acknowledged that his team were favourites for the Edinburgh match, but insisted they werr taking nothing for granted.
“We are probably favourites, but we respect all our opponents and we’re expecting a really difficult match,” Poitrenaud said. “Also, it’s a big event for the city, and for the Edinburgh team. We’re expecting a fierce physical challenge, maybe not in terms of the collision, but over the course of the match. We’ll need to be mentally tough enough to cope with that.”
The consensus in France at the time of the draw for the last eight was that Toulouse had been fortunate to be handed a match against a team who have never gone beyond this stage of the competition, but Poitrenaud would not be drawn down that line of thinking. “I don’t think it was a good draw or a bad draw,” he insisted. “When you get to the knockout stages of the European Cup you take what you’re given.
“The Scots, as we saw during the Six Nations Championship, didn’t win any games. But they were dangerous in each one, and without a doubt they could have deserved one or two wins. There are a lot of internationals in the Edinburgh team and they’ll be in the frame of mind of an international side.”
“The players who took part in the Six Nations had to be reintegrated into the side, and there were some minor injuries which prevented some of us from taking part. It was maybe for those reasons that we had a bad result at Bordeaux [in a league match the week before last], and we had to remobilise before going to Paris for the Stade Francais game.
“But now everyone is ready and we’re in the home straight. We know it’s going to be tough.”