Nick De Luca has drawn on experience of facing six different French opponents at European level when issuing a stark warning to Edinburgh colleagues ahead of tonight’s Heineken Cup clash with Perpignan at Murrayfield: “Expect the unexpected”.
Perpignan may be travelling with no chance of qualifying for the knock-out stages or even the second tier Amlin Challenge Cup – unlike Edinburgh who, depending on the outcome of the Gloucester v Munster tie being played simultaneously can still progress in either tournament.
However, De Luca insists: “You can’t really answer questions about what French opponents might be like. They are just so unpredictable.
“They could send a team who might not be interested ... or they could send a team who go out and say ‘right, let’s enjoy ourselves’ and they then go on to play some of the best rugby in the world.
“All we can do is prepare for them sending a strong team then making sure, in the first 20 or 40 minutes, we put out our own message that we are not there to muck about.
“We have to get into their heads a message that the game has gone from their point of view. (So) they will have to start concentrating on their domestic Top 14 competition.
“What we need to be aware of, though, is that the Top 14 just now is one of the best leagues in the world. I base that on the quality players over there, the resources each club has and, of course, the weather that is conducive to playing attractive rugby.”
When the teams met earlier in the group Edinburgh actually led at half-time before being caught cold after the change around. “The last time we played Perpignan we had them. We definitely did and there was no getting away from it.
“However, they showed in the second half as soon as we slipped up then were able to pounce on any mistake and rip us apart for a try bonus point.
“Since then we have improved as a team and if we play the way we can we can beat them.”
One element Edinburgh will have to overcome is the size of the Perpignan pack who register as almost half a stone per man heavier.
“I do think Perpignan are one of the bigger sides around but that could just be a sign of the times. They don’t come much bigger, after all, than Castres whom Edinburgh have beaten in the past. I don’t know what you call their forwards – humans, giants?”
“The French do love a big pack and there’s no getting away from that. But ours are going well and dominating just now. It’s going to be a good contest up front.”
De Luca’s cv includes meetings with Toulouse (2), Castres (2), Stade Francais (2), Racing Metro and Perpignan as well as home-and-away tussles with Biarritz during a brief spell at now defunct Border Reivers.
The centre’s first Euro appearance for Edinburgh, in 2007, is memorable for a try which saw him skip past French international Yannick Jauzion and soon after De Luca was collecting the first of his 41 caps for Scotland.
“I prefer to look forward rather than back and so far I’m happy with the way things are progressing at Edinburgh,” says De Luca who is content to endorse a policy of foreign signings partly as a means of inspiring up and comings.
“”I think (coach) Alan Solomons has done well in recruiting good people. We have a strong contingent of Scots and now a good balance of others.
“There is plenty of experience around to help the young guys coming through.
“When I was first in the squad I’d enjoy testing myself against the likes of Marcus Di Rollo, Simon Webster and Chris Paterson. The challenge was there and sometimes I’d p*** them off which was good from the position I was in trying to break through. When I was in the club system Nick Armstrong, a New Zealander who also played alongside at Heriot’s, helped me a lot.
“So there is a balance to be struck and above all competition is fierce with Matt Scott, Ben Atiga, Joaquin Dominguez, Sam Beard, Andries Strauss and Carl Bezuidenhout chasing centre spots.
“As well as this depth which must help we are going in fresher from having the game at Glasgow postponed last time.
“Over the festive period there were short turnarounds of seven, six and even five days.
“Not only that some of us were coming off the back of Autumn tests. We are now rested – and ready to unleash!”