‘If we give Leinster 44 points, it could be difficult’

Last week’s epic defeat of Clermont Auvergne has solidified the sense that Toulouse are back at their rollicking, unpredictable best.

Ninety-one points were scored by the pair of Top 14 giants in the course of a bewitching Sunday afternoon at Le Stadium with the lead changing back and forth before the hosts fought back from 11 points down to win by three.

It was beautiful and it was barmy and yet the rebirth of the famous Stade Toulousain hasn’t been built just on Cheslin Kolbe’s magic feet or the elixir of youth that has come with the likes of Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont. It couldn’t.

The Top 14 is no place for a side heavy on glitter and light on grit.

Neither is Europe, for that matter.

Underpinning everything they do is a forward pack infused with a combination of French and southern hemisphere heft — and with Scotland’s Richie Gray in there too.

Providing the template for that grizzled bunch are the likes of lineout coach Jean Bouilhou, forwards coach William Servat and joint head coach Regis Sonnes — all of whom, like the other top man Ugo Monye, played for the club in days gone by.

Sonnes may well have enjoyed the least sparkling playing career of the quartet, but his two-year stint coaching in Bandon has created an obvious interest in these parts this season as Toulouse prepare for what will be a third crack at Leinster.

And Gray is effusive of the part Sonnes has played in the club’s progress.

“He has been great,” said the lock. “I have got a very good relationship with Regis. I know he was over in Ireland for a couple of years plying his trade. He talks about the weather a lot over in Ireland! He’s happy to be back. He has been great.

“He’s a hard coach, but he is a fair coach. He has got us working very hard as a forward pack. There is a huge amount of respect for him. He is a good guy all round and a good trainer. I think he has had a very positive impact on the team.”

Gray describes a coach who believes in the benefits of repetition and drills. Toulouse’s pack work assiduously on their mauls which have improved appreciably this season and he welcomes the input of the playing group when discussing their approach to lineouts and other areas.

“He really does leave no stone unturned and he’s very thorough with his work.”

Toulouse have enjoyed contrasting experiences in their two pool games against Leinster this term: From the thrilling one-point win at home last October to their comprehensive loss in Dublin in January when Gray felt their execution levels were below scratch.

It was a rare dip in standards from a side which, that aside, has lost just one game since September and that with a second-string XV, and there will be little complacency on their return to Ireland given the manner of their win against Clermont last time out.

“In all honestly, we got out of jail,” said Gray.

“So, a bit of relief obviously. Delighted to beat a team like Clermont and stay top of the League but we know we need to sharpen up against Leinster.

“If we give Leinster 44 points, it could be a very difficult day at the office.”

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