Lock Ben Toolis believes Edinburgh are still learning their way through the rarefied atmosphere of the Heineken Champions Cup but that their stunning rise to the top of Pool 5 should give them the confidence to put teams to the sword more ruthlessly.
After starting their return to Europe’s elite competition as 14-1 outsiders to emerge from a section that also included three-time champions Toulon, Vern Cotter’s wealthy Montpellier and English Premiership outfit Newcastle Falcons, Richard Cockerill’s side are now odds-on favourites to top the pool and qualify automatically for the quarter-finals.
One win from the final two games, away to Toulon and home to Montpellier, should be enough and the first opportunity comes against the former on 12 January before Cotter’s side come calling a week later.
With Toulon now effectively out of contention there would appear to be an opportunity to get the job done ahead of the final round, although Cockerill, pictured inset, was wary of writing off his former club on their home patch.
However seriously Toulon choose to take that game, Toolis is adamant that off the back of three straight wins in the tournament, culminating in Sunday’s 21-8 success away at Newcastle, Edinburgh should travel to the south of France looking to take them on from the off and test their resolve.
“I think we just need to wrap our heads around having the same mentality in the first half straight from the kick-off,” said the 26-year-old second row, who now has 14 Scotland caps.
“The best teams in the world do that, start well and keep the pressure on, blow the opposition off the park. We’re still learning in this competition. We’ve put ourselves in a really good position to go through but we haven’t qualified for anything yet. We need to keep pushing on, playing well and hopefully get another result.”
Edinburgh trailed again at half-time before roaring back in the second half at Kingston Park but the Queensland-born forward is aware that sluggish starts will be tougher to get out of the deeper into the competition they go.
“I think we had left ten to 20 per cent out there which we added in the second half,” he reflected on Sunday’s game. “We were a bit conservative in the first half, seeing what they were doing, which you can’t afford to do in this competition. You need to go out and throw everything at them and I think we did that in the second half. Cockers said it and got it out of us.”
There may be quite a few raised eyebrows across Europe that it is the Scots who lead the way in Pool 5 but Toolis said the Edinburgh players are not shocked to find themselves in this position. “I’m not really surprised at all,” he said. “I know when we play well we can compete with anyone.
“I don’t think anyone really looked at the odds, we were just focusing on ourselves and felt we could get out the pool.
“We just need to take that form back into the Pro14 now because that’s been a bit frustrating. We need to get a few more wins there. We’re pleased and looking forward to what is coming.”
First up is the 1872 Cup double header against Glasgow, with the first leg at BT Murrayfield on Saturday before a trip to Scotstoun a week later. Toolis acknowledged that their away record needs addressed and hopes the win in Newcastle, which was a first on the road for eight months, provides the perfect fillip.
“It was frustrating at the start of the season. There were three or four games where we only lost by a score,” explained Toolis. “We knew we could come here and win.
“Some of those away losses we were unlucky and it was the other teams doing well. On Sunday we were getting back to the kind of things we were doing last year. Keeping the pressure on even though we were down at half-time. “
Edinburgh are now energised by the prospect of starting their defence of the 1872 Cup and locking horns with Glasgow in a battle for Scottish bragging rights.
“They’ve had a few good results. Beating Lyon back to back, playing well in tough conditions on Saturday,” said Toolis. “We focus on Glasgow now and it’s going to be a tough couple of weeks.”