• Allo, Allo: Guy Noves at Murrayfield in 2005
The Heineken Cup resumes next Friday when Toulouse visit Firhill in the first of two back-to-back matches against Glasgow. You would not normally offer a snowball's chance for Sean Lineen's side against the No.1 team in Europe, except that the punters probably said the same thing almost two years ago.
In January 2009 the Warriors somehow beat the giants of European rugby 33-26 in their own backyard and scored three tries in the process to rock the rugby world. This must have been the biggest upset since Goliath chuckled, "he couldn't hit a barn door at that range".
"No, I don't think so, there have been bigger shocks in the Heineken Cup," responds Toulouse's veteran coach Guy Noves from France. "I have a lot of respect for Glasgow Rugby, they are a good side and we prepared very well for that game two years ago. I don't think it was arrogance on our part that caused that defeat, we were just beaten on the day."
Noves has been at the Toulouse helm since 1993 and the longest serving coach in the club game is a contrary character, which is probably one of the reasons he has never been handed the national reins. Watching him on the sidelines, the 56-year-old still resembles a little boy who needs to spend a penny: unable to stand still for long, he prowls the touchline or crouches, barking instructions at his players and staff alike. It's as if he is still playing the game he once graced with distinction, winning seven international caps - out of Toulouse, of course.
His longevity may draw comparisons with Sir Alex Ferguson but his open access to the media abruptly ends the similarity. When I speak to the media manager at Toulouse she tells me that anyone else in the club might be a problem but I'm given Noves' number and told to call him any time; the boss likes to talk.
His dedication is legendary, especially the time two years ago when he was knocked off his racing bike, the item upon which he expends all that excess energy, by a Mercedes. He was taken to hospital unconscious but discharged himself the following day in order to be able to watch his beloved team play a European tie 48 hours after the accident. It is that sort of mindset that has turned Noves into the most successful club coach in world rugby with seven French Championships (Bouclier de Brennus), two domestic cups and four European titles to his name; more than any of the competition. So, what is the secret of his success?
"It is putting very good people in all the right places," he replies. "I don't just mean the players, where attitude is as important as ability, but the coaching staff, the medical staff, the physiotherapists, the ground staff, everyone! I choose people with the same philosophy that I have and it breeds success."
What that means in practice is putting good Toulouse people in place because the club always promotes from within, people who already understand the system. Former scrum-half Jean Baptiste Elissalde is now the club's backs coach while Yannick Bru, who hooked for the Rouge et Noir for a decade or so, now looks after the big men. This is a family affair, albeit one with a strong father figure.
One of the club's favourite sons, Freddie Michalak, once summed up the famous institution in just three words: "Competition, honesty and humility." So how would the coach sum up his own philosophy, which infuses ever corner of this club?
"First of all you need respect," he replies. "Respect for the opposition. Secondly I think humility is very important and lastly hard work. The sort of work ethic that means after every game you start again from nothing, that sort of hard work."
Former Scotland centre Marcus di Rollo was at Toulouse briefly and he testifies to that. Live matches against the espoirs (hopefuls) were the norm each Tuesday and at the end of every day the backs spent an additional 90 minutes on kicking practice - not just the designated kickers, every single back. What was it Gary Player said about practice again?
It seems to work, or at least it does when allied to an eye-watering annual budget that is a good night out shy of 30 million. That has to help since it enables Toulouse to run a huge squad with more international players than there are places in a match-day squad. These numbers allow Noves to fight on two fronts and if some French clubs target the Top 14, most seem to be lining up behind Toulouse, who make no bones about putting Europe at the top of their priorities.
"We said our priority this season was the European Cup and we've fulfilled our contract," said a jubilant Noves after beating Biarritz in the final back in May. Sadly the coach has not always been quite so chipper after a winning final. When Toulouse beat their bitter Parisian rivals Stade Francais in Edinburgh back in 2005 Noves literally had his collar felt by the Lothian and Borders bobbies after attempting to climb into the West Stand to share the moment with his son. It was not, to put it mildly, the best advert for Scottish hospitality or common sense.
At least he appears to bear no grudges. Noves insists that next Friday evening's game against Glasgow at Firhill should be a tough examination because of what Scotland achieved over the course of their autumn Tests. Toulouse's 40-19 demolition of the Dragons in Wales in the last round suggests otherwise. Still, the mention of national teams prompts an obvious line of enquiry.
Noves was one of the candidates in contention for the French post back in 2007 before Marc Lievremont got the job. At the time the former breakaway had very little experience and he was seen as a French Federation insider, parachuted into the job by the then president of the FFR, Bernard Lapasset, who now chairs the IRB.
Admittedly Lievremont won the Grand Slam last year but since then France's results have been worse than woeful. In the summer they leaked 42 points to the Springboks in Cape Town, which could be excused, before leaking another 41 to the Pumas in Buenos Aires, which can't. They won two matches this autumn, against Fiji (34-12) and against Argentina (15-6) before conceding a record number of points on home soil to Australia, meekly surrendering a 16-13 lead to eventually lose by 16-59. The after-match aftermath was not pretty, with numerous commentators calling for a change of coach, so would Noves set aside his differences with the FFR and take over if asked?
"I am not here to talk about France," he replies testily, "I am here to prepare my club for several important games that are coming up."
But, I say, France are the only one of the big five nations not to have won the World Cup.Why is that?
"France are not one of the big five any more, they are sixth in the [IRB] ranking," is Noves' damning response.
The veteran may have too much class to dance around Lievremont's death bed but that's not to say he won't skewer the young upstart when the opportunity arises. Sadly for an injury-hit Glasgow team, ruthlessness is just another one of Noves' many admirable traits that his team have adopted as their own.
q A FAMILIAR FOE FOR EDINBURGH, PAGES 22-23