Edinburgh’s Ben Toolis relishes challenge of facing French heavy mob

Edinburgh’s exploits against French giants Montpellier and Toulon in last season’s Champions Cup will give the team confidence as they head into this Friday’s away clash against Agen, says second-row Ben Toolis.
Ben Toolis wants Edinburgh to keep their momentum going as more World Cup players return to club duty. Picture: SNS/SRUBen Toolis wants Edinburgh to keep their momentum going as more World Cup players return to club duty. Picture: SNS/SRU
Ben Toolis wants Edinburgh to keep their momentum going as more World Cup players return to club duty. Picture: SNS/SRU

Having achieved a 75 per cent success rate in those two games against a couple of the best funded clubs in Europe during the 2018-19 campaign, there should be no reason to fear Agen, who currently sit one place off the foot of the French Top 14 table with only three wins and one draw from nine games played so far.

While Toolis stresses that it will still be a big ask away from home, he says the Edinburgh players are looking forward to taking on a different type of challenge to the sort they face week-in and week-out in the Guinness Pro14.

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“The French teams play a different style of rugby, so it’s another opportunity to learn,” he said. “I guess they play quite a physical game. The Pro14 is very physical as well, but in France you have much heavier men, so it is a good challenge for us to see how we go up front against a big forward pack.

“They bring a different skill set to the game as well with their offloading and their free style of play, so it is a great opportunity for us to see where we are at defensively. Also, from an attack point of view, it is about trying to capitalise on the bigger and heavier men with our skill sets to try to score points.

“As players we also see it as another opportunity to play and keep the momentum going,” he added. “If you push on to win this tournament then that is an avenue to get into the Champions Cup, so every week and every game we go into we are going to win regardless of what competition it is.

“There might be opportunities this week for boys who have not had much game time so far to play and put their hands up, but whoever is getting picked to play is going to give 100 percent. It’s the same with the rest of the games in this competition. We want to win them all.”

The memory of Edinburgh’s away match against Toulon last January clearly still shines brightly for Toolis, who played 66 minutes of that historic 17-28 win at the Stade Felix-Mayol.

“That was pretty special, wasn’t it? The last few times we’ve played in France we’ve done really well so we just have to have the same mindset this weekend,” he beamed. “The fact it is not a Champions Cup game doesn’t change our mentality; we want to go out there and get a win but also put in a dominant display and take positives out of it.

“To move forward we need to improve. Winning teams are always improving, and they have the right mindset week in and week out.

“My experiences of playing in France have not been too bad. It has been tough, but usually a close loss or a close win. Especially beating Toulon in Toulon, not many teams have done that. They have struggled in the past season or two, but it is still a tough place to play.

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We also had a marginal loss in Montpellier, and you could say we should have won that game. We’ve got confidence from the past season and if we can take that into this weekend’s game then I’m sure we will be fine.”

Toolis added that it helps that Richard Cockerill’s side have started the season in pretty impressive fashion despite having a raft of key players away on World Cup duty.

“In the past we’ve probably struggled a bit when boys were away playing for Scotland, but they have set the standard really well,” he acknowledged. “It is obviously a lot easier coming back to a winning team. The mood is up, and morale is up. It was good to get the win on Friday night against the Dragons and hopefully we can keep building that momentum and keep getting wins.”

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