Gloucester aim to overcome Barça of the oval ball game

Bryan Redpath tells Simon Turnbull how his side can combat the mighty Toulouse

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Bryan Redpath is sitting in a corner of Gloucester's Hartpury College training base, sizing up the task that will confront his Cherry and Whites at the Stade Ernest-Wallon in Toulouse tomorrow. "You just need to look at the names to see how good they are," the former Scotland scrum-half ponders. "There's McAlister, Beauxis, Poitrenaud, Clerc, Census Johnston, Dusautoir, Nyanga... Jesus, we should not bother turning up."

The Borderer is only jesting on the latter score. Toulouse might be four-time champions of Europe and regarded by many as "the Manchester United of rugby" – or "the Barcelona" of the oval ball game, as Luke Narraway, the Gloucester captain, prefers to call them – but Redpath is relishing the challenge of taking them on in their own back yard at the start of another Heineken Cup campaign in which the French giants start as favourites.

For one thing, Gloucester's first ever encounter with Stade Toulousain in Europe's premier club competition will give their director of rugby an 80-minute break from the post-World Cup travails that have stuck, limpet-fashion, to the Kingsholm club.

It was bad enough that Mike Tindall and Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu returned from New Zealand with negative baggage – the England centre, for his late-night partying; the Samoan centre, courtesy of his abusive tweeting. It has been even worse for Redpath and the rest of the Gloucester regime that the negativity has continued, Fuimaono-Sapolu receiving a three-week ban from the Rugby Football Union on Monday for critical comments about the young Saracen Owen Farrell on Twitter and Tindall yesterday being fined £25,000 by the RFU and dropped from the England Elite Players Squad.

"I'm not going to keep talking about the England thing," Redpath says. "The World Cup has gone and finished. Mike needs to push on and take the slaps on the back and the slaps in the chops and make sure he plays well for Gloucester. And, I've got to be honest with you, I'm sick of talking about the social media thing, too.

"There's been a lot of media attention around the negative things in rugby and it's not making the game look happy and rosy. There are plenty of young players who have been coming through in a positive manner but they've all been sidetracked because of the focus on other things.

"I understand that the media have a job to do but it's time to put a lid on it. We all want to stir up rubbish about this and that, and the facts are there for you all to say: 'Yes, he's done this and he's done that'. It's just tiring and exhausting to keep going over the dirty water.

"Last Saturday was a humbling experience for me. Seven people died on the M5. Why should I lose sleep over this? I'm lucky. I wake up with my family. I coach rugby. I want to get on with it."

Which brings us back to Toulouse. Under the wily coaching of Guy Novès, without question the Alex Ferguson of European rugby, they've been beaten just once at home in the Heineken Cup in the last four seasons – by an inspired Glasgow Warriors. They've not lost at home to English opposition since 2000, when Saracens won 32-22.

Such are the riches at Toulouse's disposal, Novès can afford the luxury of resting Thierry Dusautoir, the newly-crowned world player of the year, and Vincent Clerc, the flying little French winger – and also to start with William Servat, Yannick Jauzion and Lionel Beauxis all on the bench. As for Redpath, twice a loser at Toulouse in two visits as a Narbonne player a decade ago, he will be without the suspended Fuimaono-Sapolu but has chosen to keep faith with Tindall in a back-line brimming with the youthful talents of Charlie Sharples, Freddie Burns, Henry Trinder and the more mature Olly Morgan.

"Toulouse are probably the best European side in history," Redpath says. "Their wealth, what they spend on the squad and staff, is phenomenal. The expectation on us going there is very low; 99.9 per cent of people will say: 'You're never going to win'. That's fine. We can't get bogged down in what they are. We can't worry about how good their players are. If we do, we'll go in with our pants half down and then they'll get pulled right off.

"We've got to go there and say: 'Hey, we're the underdogs'. We've got a tag there that we've got to trade off. And we've got to man up. We've got to put them in unpleasant places by our mindset and our enthusiasm and our doggedness. We've got to make sure it's a bit of a shit-fight, to put it plainly. If we don't, we're going to get done – comfortably done."

Comments