Edinburgh Rugby will be facing a “class organisation” in Toulouse when the Heineken European Cup quarter final takes place at Murrayfield during the first weekend of April.
It is well documented that the French club have won the competition more than any other side – four times – but an in-depth look at what Edinburgh will really be up against comes today from Marcus Di Rollo who represented both clubs.
Sadly, things didn’t work for Di Rollo across the channel due to an alleged heart abnormality which he’d had since birth and which he always disputed to the point where he successfully returned to playing with Watsonians a few years ago.
But the 21 times capped centre retains enormous respect for Toulouse – and learned while attached to them that admiration is mutual.
“Edinburgh and Toulouse have played each other often [11 times] in Europe and it was interesting that while out there two of their most celebrated internationalists, Vincent Clerc and Clement Poitrenaud, told me that from their perspective the games were always so fast paced that they needed an extra few days to recover.”
In that regard nothing has changed in terms of Edinburgh’s style as witnessed by a club record 17 tries in topping a qualifying group last weekend with a 34-11 win over London Irish to set up the glamour showdown which immediately brought back memories and filled Di Rollo with excitement.
“I really hope and expect Edinburgh to kick on from here.
“Hopefully the resources will now be available to bring in a couple of experienced players from overseas because the support of Todd Blackadder and Brendan Laney, who were team-mates when we beat Toulouse at Meadowbank in 2003-04 can’t be underestimated.
“What has impressed me about this Edinburgh team is the hunger of so many young lads striving to be capped by Scotland and the sky’s the limit if they can be guaranteed the sort of assistance my generation had from the likes of Todd and Brendan when they arrived from New Zealand.”
What sort of club will Edinburgh be confronting?
“Toulouse are a class organisation and from the moment I signed my three year contract I became aware of a club atmosphere that Edinburgh are now starting to achieve.
“There would be people around the club willing to muck in whose names you didn’t know but you just realised had once worn the Toulouse jersey and retained strong feelings for their club.
“Men in their seventies and eighties would drop by to have lunch at the club and shake your hand. The scale of the operation was astounding with 150 sponsors and six main jersey and shorts sponsors.
“On my first day, I was asked what club car I wanted to drive and given a load of kit.
“Every match in the club stadium attracted around 20,000 and for bigger games we went to the Municipal Stadium which held 40,000.
“During the three years I was originally signed for, the club won the French Top 14 for the first time in seven or eight years as well as a Heineken Cup and the disappointing thing for me was knowing I could have been part of it but for the health matter.
“Throughout the club looked after me well and coach Guy Noves [pictured right], who remains in charge, was always keen for me to play.
“I did turn out as one of the over-age players permitted for the under-23s and there were other occasions Noves’ included me before being required to leave me out the side.
“The Toulouse financial director spoke English and we became close, too, with Toulouse paying for me to see all the specialists I wanted.”
The fact that much medical advice favoured Di Rollo leads him to state: “I now know it became more of an insurance than a medical issue that effectively ended my rugby career.”
He adds: “It was amicable between me and Toulouse and overall I was struck by how they incorporated ex-players into a coaching set-up which requires the same style of play right through from an unbelievably good academy set-up. I took so many positives out of the whole sweet- bitter experience even if things didn’t work out the way I had hoped when my agent, Dick Best, called to say Toulouse were interested in signing me.
“At Edinburgh Bob Carruthers had taken over and had his back to the wall; he was going to pull the internationalists out of the Scotland squad during one row and told us we were free to look for something else.
“For me it was time for a change and having played in Toulouse with Edinburgh I’d always said if a chance to go there ever came along I’d jump at it.
“I enjoyed every minute at my hometown club but I also feel I’ve had an insight into a team who are the rugby equivalent of a Manchester United.
“That said, with the hunger Edinburgh are showing I would not rule out them going even further in this Heineken Cup, especially as Toulouse don’t always travel well.”