Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill says his side will “give it full metal jacket” as they attempt to pull off one of the greatest victories in their history at Toulon, and potentially set up a Euro quarter-final clash with Glasgow.
The capital team head into their penultimate Heineken Champions Cup Pool 5 game knowing that a famous win at the French giants could seal their progress to the knock-out stages for only the third time ahead of the following weekend’s return to Edinburgh of former Scotland coach Vern Cotter with his Montpellier side.
Cockerill’s team are top of the section on 15 points, four ahead of Montpellier, with three-time European champions Toulon out of the running on just six points.
French sides are notorious for giving up the ghost in Europe when qualification hopes vanish but Cockerill has warned that the sheer quality of the players at their disposal, the most formidable home record in the competition and a significant improvement in form since they were thumped at BT Murrayfield, makes for a huge test at the atmospheric Stade Mayol.
“We have to go and play our game,” said Cockerill, who had six months’ coaching at Toulon before taking over at Edinburgh. “Things are not going to change much. They have some quality individuals who we know will cause us damage. They are a far better team at home and have improved hugely from the last time that we played them so we have to make sure we play how we play.
“We have been physical and dominant in the last five games but may not have the luxury of that against such a big physical team so we have to be accurate and move them around the field, move their big pack around and take our opportunities when they come. But is a very hard place to go and win. Not many teams do it, certainly not in Europe. We have to work hard.”
Asked if he felt Toulon would still be motivated, the coach replied: “I think at Mayol they will put their best side out and go as hard as they can to win the game because they have Newcastle the week after then back to their league the week after. I would expect a full team from them and I would expect to rest players when they go to Newcastle. That would make perfect sense to me.
“If you get it wrong they will hurt you. But we know if we get it right, and we’ve got a motivated group of players who want to prove themselves, because our lads haven’t been at this level before, we haven’t played these types of teams, so it’s an exciting challenge for us and one we want to take.
“We’ll give it full metal jacket and see where we get to because why not? How much fun is this? It’s much better than playing [Russian minnows] Krasny Yar [in the second-tier Challenge Cup], I’ll tell you that.”
Edinburgh are buoyant off the back of five straight wins and Cockerill even raised the prospect of a last-eight Euro meeting with Glasgow, a side they enjoyed back-to-back 1872 Cup wins over a fruitful festive period.
“I’d like us to go there [Toulon] and win, because then we’re playing for a home quarter-final when Montpellier come here and you look at that Montpellier side and your eyes water at what that would cost,” he said.
“So, I want us to take both [games]. I don’t want us to go to Toulon and be a little bit half-arsed because we know that we’ve got another shot. If we can get anything from that game, get a win from that game, you get two points from that game, it gives you best chance to qualify top and also potentially be at home, which is huge because financially that’s big. If the rugby gods are looking down on us we could get Glasgow at home in a European quarter-final. How good would that be?”
With a third Pro14 regular-season meeting at Scotstoun to come and the chance of an all-Scottish clash in the play-offs of that competition it means it remains not impossible that the inter-city rivals could still meet a further three times before the end of May.
For the moment, though, even with Toulon having nothing tangible to play for, Cockerill is viewing this trip to the south of France as a tougher test than Glasgow.
“I think so, because our players know their [Glasgow’s] players so well and, they know the ins and outs, their strengths and weaknesses,” he explained. “When you’re going up against the names we’re going up against at the weekend, away from home, psychologically that’s tougher because that’s a world-class playing roster for Toulon that cost an awful lot of money to put together.”