Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill is in familiar surrounds as he prepares his side for this evening’s showdown with Toulon at the iconic Stade Mayol and you could picture him nodding and chin stroking over enough well-known names when presented with the French giants’ team sheet yesterday.
However, even the man who spent six months with the cashed-up Mediterranean powerhouse was left scratching his head at one. “We’ll have to do some homework on the full-back, because I’d never heard of him before,” said Cockerill of 19-year-old Mathieu Smaili, who starts tonight.
Elsewhere, plenty of big guns are rolled out. Skipper Mathieu Bastareaud and Francois Trinh-Duc in the centre, Springbok JP Pietersen and All Black Julian Savea on the wings, Les Bleus’ tyro stand-off Anthony Belleau, Wales and Lions scrum-half Rhys Webb, France captain and hooker Guilhem Guirado… So not what most would call a second string then.
The general feeling is that three-time European champions Toulon are long gone this year but Cockerill feels they may have the merest, slightest sniff at the quarter-finals if two bonus-point wins get them up to 16 points in a Pool 5 currently proudly topped by the Scots.
The Englishman is certainly not banking on them chucking in the towel and following the stereotype of French sides giving an insouciant shrug after a couple of pool defeats, including that brilliant 40-14 dismantling at Edinburgh’s hands in October.
“I think certainly Toulon tomorrow in the context of where they are need to deliver a big performance,” warned Cockerill. “Because they’re at home, and they will be expected to beat an Edinburgh team. They still have an outside chance of qualifying depending on other results.
“We’re trying to get the sum out of our parts and maybe they probably know themselves that they’re not playing as well as they can. But clearly they’ve got enough quality so if it does click on the day they’re good enough to beat anybody.”
That “sum of our parts” message has continued this week as Edinburgh head to the south of France, buoyed by five wins on the bounce and knowing the quarter-finals are tantalisingly within grasp, while acknowledging that winning at a side who have only ever lost two Champions Cup games at their own fortress will require a monumental effort.
“You know me, I love to be an underdog so let’s not change it,” said Cockerill, repeating the mantra he trotted out with relish during that fortnight of 1872 Cup domination over Glasgow.
Not that Cockerill is averse to talking his boys up as he unsurprisingly restored the starting XV from the win at Scotstoun. “For me, you look at that [Toulon] forward pack and look at our pack and we’re man for man as good as they are.”