Blair Kinghorn: ‘The mentality at Toulouse is that we win trophies’

<span>Blair Kinghorn celebrates with his <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Toulouse;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Toulouse</a> teammate Antoine Dupont after scoring against Exeter.</span><span>Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images</span>

It’s been five months since Blair Kinghorn decided to move from Edinburgh to Toulouse mid-season. He’s played 10 games and won every one of them. Toulouse are second in the Top 14, two points off Stade Français, and have a home semi-final against Harlequins in the Champions Cup on Sunday.

Kinghorn has scored six tries and eanred himself a spot in a freewheeling backline that includes Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack, and Thomas Ramos. He’s been playing in front of a 20,000 home crowd every other week. And he and his fiancee are settled into their new house, next door to his friend and teammate Jack Willis.

Related: The Breakdown | English rugby must wear salary cap and resist temptation to remove it

Given all that, how do you think it’s working out? “Honestly,” Kinghorn says, “I’m loving it.” The match against Harlequins is another reminder why he made the switch. “You dream about these big knockout European games, or big domestic knockout games, it was a big influence on my decision to come here.”

The move caught a lot of people short. Kinghorn had been at Edinburgh for eight years, his entire career, and had established himself as one of the best players in Scotland. He had become the youngest player to win a hundred caps for the club. But he was starting to feel stagnant.

“I just feel like I could have been better than I was. And that’s probably on me, as well, not working hard enough, not having to fight, week-in, week-out, for a spot in the Edinburgh team. Potentially it made me a bit complacent.” It’s not that he had become lazy, he says, “I worked really hard at Edinburgh,” it’s just that no one was pushing him. “I didn’t want to sit and be a good player, I wanted to move and become an even better player, become a great player.”

He has relished having to prove himself again. “There’s no letting up because if you don’t train well, or play well, then the squad is so good that you just won’t get picked.” Toulouse have been using him at full back, with the odd appearance on the wing. And if his French is still pretty schoolboy – “I don’t really understand much” – he’s getting by fine on the pitch.

“We’re playing off instinct, you can see that in a lot of our games. A lot of the tries we score aren’t from set moves, we’re just playing rugby, and everyone’s adapting to each other.”

Scotland’s coach, Gregor Townsend, described it as a good move for Kinghorn but a bad one for Scottish rugby. But he insists he is still committed to the national team. “I feel like this is only going to develop me to be a better player for Scotland. The stuff I’ll learn here is going to make me excel in my own game and then I can bring that back hopefully with some good form and do that for Scotland.”

Gloucester reached the Challenge Cup final for a fourth time after beating Italian hopefuls Benetton 40-23 at Kingsholm. George Skivington’s team will face South Africa's Sharks at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on 24 May. Despite struggling in the Premiership this season, Gloucester are now chasing more silverware after being crowned Premiership Rugby Cup winners in March.

The fly-half, Adam Hastings (pictured), was the architect of Gloucester’s triumph, scoring 17 points through a try, three conversions and two penalties on his penultimate home appearance before rejoining Glasgow this summer.

The full-back Josh Hathaway, hooker Seb Blake, lock Freddie Clarke and wing Ollie Thorley also touched down, while the scrum-half Caolan Englefield kicked a penalty 10 minutes from time.

Benetton, Challenge Cup semi-finalists last term, pushed Gloucester hard as hooker Gianmarco Lucchesi (two) and full-back Rhyno Smith scored tries - Tomas Albornoz added two penalties and a conversion – but two tries in four minutes midway through the second period gave the home side breathing space.

The Sharks booked their place in the final after striking with a late try to topple Clermont 32-31 at the Twickenham Stoop. The 71st-minute score was made possible by Eben Etzebeth successfully challenging for a kick, with the South African side's attack then clicking into gear. A superb offload from Vincent Tshituka found Lukhanyo Am and he drew the last defender before providing his  Springboks team-mate Makazole Mapimpi with a simple run in.
The Sharks, who were 31-18 down heading into the final quarter, had Aphelele Fassi in the sin bin when Mapimpi pounced and still needed Siya Masuku to nail a tricky conversion to win. PA Media

You need a certain style to fit into that Toulousain back line. They’ve scored 40 tries in six Champions Cup matches so far this season. Bath pushed them hardest, in an away game at the Rec, and Toulouse still won by 12. Ulster went down by 24, Exeter by 38, Cardiff by 45.

That one was Kinghorn’s first match. He had never experienced anything quite like it. “There’s certainly something extra when you’re playing at home here,” he says. “All the fans that come out, week-in, week-out they’re here hours before the match and hours after it, going absolutely mental. It’s brilliant.

“In that first game the fans just blew me away. I’ve played French teams before, you know how passionate they are, but it’s not until you hear them cheering for yourself that you kind of realise how crazy it is.” He scored twice and has started every European game since.

The match against Quins is being played at the city’s main stadium, which has a capacity of 33,000. Tickets sold out in 20 minutes. “They live and breathe rugby here and they love supporting the team. You feel that whenever you pull on the jersey, like it’s a massive honour to play for this great club and you can’t take that lightly.”

Toulouse have not lost a home game this season. Or last season, come to that. Quins pipped Bordeaux-Bègles by a point in the quarter-finals, but as Kinghorn will tell you, Toulouse at home are something else again. “The mentality here is that we win trophies,” Kinghorn says. “Everyone wants to win. It’s everywhere you go in the club.”