Toulouse backs coach Clement Poitrenaud has spoken out against the accession of South Africa’s franchises to the Champions Cup, despite his excitement at the challenge.
With a trip to the Aviva to face Munster looming in the quarter-finals for the defending champions and a domestic campaign which is going off the rails a bit, Poitrenaud is excited to crank up the intensity in the squad, also confessing to a little nostalgia for a tournament which is going to be European for the last time this season.
Not Europe any more
South Africa’s United Rugby Championship franchises will be in the competition next season, which will present all the teams with a new challenge both logistically and on the field, but it will be a further move away from familiarity and the normal European landscape.
“Can we call it a European Cup? In my opinion, no,” he told Midi-Olympique.
“Sportingly, it’s always interesting, with new challenges that are exciting. It’s new teams and different players.
“On the other hand, on the format of the competition, I have trouble understanding. It’s like bringing the South Africans into the Six Nations as well. I’m quite old-fashioned and attached to some traditions and it’s true that it distorts this competition, not to my taste.
“This is the last time we will have the European Cup only with Europeans, with teams that have been playing this competition for many years with anthology matches.
“It is somehow nostalgic to say that it is the last in this format. Even though we won it last year, it would be nice to win it for the last time in this form.”
A trip to Munster at this time of year would normally be a trip to face the full force of a raucous Thomond Park, but a bizarre booking for an Ed Sheeran concert on Champions Cup weekend has left Munster heading to Dublin for their home quarter-final, something Poitrenaud feels has given his team an advantage – as well as the psychological edge bestowed by their win over Munster on the way to last year’s title.
“We will go there to repeat the feats of last season,” he said.
“The circumstances are a little different, the season is different. We’re not going to play at Thomond Park, we’re going to play at Aviva Stadium, which is still an important fact because they won’t really be at home. It’s not neutral, but it is different.
“But it’s always a feat to beat Munster, whether at home or away.
“It is a team that has a lot of experience, they played a lot of finals in this competition. They have players of great talent in all positions. So obviously it will be a feat.”
Toulouse were flying high in the Top 14 before Christmas, but the loss of a number of key players to the Six Nations, coupled with rotation of the squad since then, has left the side perilously close to missing out on the playoffs.
In Europe too, the team has been inconsistent, but, and including the comeback second-leg win over Ulster, the team seems to be able to find the necessary je ne sais quoi to dig out results when it matters.
“We are finding this mental strength to snatch the matches in the last moments, which we have lacked in recent months,” he reflected.
“Seeing the momentum turn in our favour is a positive sign. In terms of rugby, we are trying interesting things even if we’re not yet putting it together over 80 minutes.
“But we feel that the team is progressing on this side, the lights are green compared to past weeks. Now everyone must get in tune to meet this challenge, which promises to be complicated.”
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