STADE TOULOUSAIN are proud of their traditions and expect them to be respected and passed on.
The manner in which they play is important to the natives, particularly its backline prowess which is often the envy of Europe. They have a slogan in these parts: ‘Jeu de mains, jeu de Toulousain’, the handling game is the Toulouse game, and backs coach Philippe Rougé-Thomas is responsible for spreading this gospel.
While les toulousains don’t have much time for the Sevens-style rugby propagated in the ELV-riddled fields of the Super 14, the Toulouse way is an amalgam of hard-nosed forward grit and a sense of joie de vivre prevalent amongst their backs.
Guy Novès may be the heart and soul of this great club but his trusting lieutenant is Rougé-Thomas, a former international fly-half whose job since 2000 has been to sculpt the perfect backline — and keeping a smile on the supporters’ faces. The argument persists that Toulouse can buy success thanks to an annual budget worth €17m, but Rougé-Thomas explains that the success of the big red machine from the Haute-Garonne region of France lies beyond the power of the chequebook.
A perfect example of having to nurture the youth in the face of major setbacks lies in the loss of international backs, Clément Poitrenaud and Vincent Clerc — any other team would write off their season if they lost players of this calibre; in Toulouse they look to the young unheralded backs they’ve developed for answers.
“During the World Cup we could work for three months without our internationals,” explains Rougé-Thomas. “And we’re seeing the results at the end of the season. We’re seeing guys like (Yves) Donguy, (Maleli) Kunavore or (Maxime) Médard come to the fore. So, the work we did in the inter-season has been profitable.
“Stade Toulousain is used to juggling with injuries, though less so with all these injuries in the same positions. We had a difficult period but it’s behind us now. We’re going to try use the good weather to prepare for Munster serenely.”
They are quite a double act, Novès and Rougé-Thomas. Since Rougé-Thomas arrived in 2000, Toulouse have captured two Heineken Cup titles (2003 and 2005) and a Bouclier de Brennus (Top 14, 2001). The 47-year-old assistant was born into the traditions of the club and won a Top 14 title alongside Novès in 1989, and is perfectly placed to comment on the secrets behind Novès’s longevity and success at Toulouse’s helm. “He has a major savoir-faire: man-management,” explained Rougé-Thomas. “He’s very stringent of course, but as much with himself as with others. He’s been able to make the structures at the club evolve. Above all he’s exceptionally competitive.
“I knew him as a player and he was the coach when we won the French championship in 1989. I’m fortunate enough to be at his side and I’m very honoured. Even if we’re friends, it’s a relationship without concessions when it comes to work because we need to keep advancing.”
The coaching team in la Ville rose places such a high premium on progress because the standard of rugby in Europe is ever increasing.
“We’ve realised that all the competitions have raised their level,” said Rougé-Thomas.
“There are no more small games in the Top 14. I’m told we stumbled against Montauban (Toulouse’s last match in the Top 14 which they won 28-6) who are seventh in the championship, and we beat them by three tries and scored a bonus point a week ahead of the European Cup Final. I find it was a good performance.”
As a lover of great backline play, it comes as no surprise to hear him lavish praise on Munster’s ability to evolve into an attacking unit of some strength and he is particularly impressed with the Kiwi axis of Rua Tipoki, Lifeimi Mafi and Doug Howlett.
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