Toulouse vow to be ready for Stade Francais

Toulouse will be at their best when they face French rivals Stade Francais in their European Cup quarter-final next Sunday, warned Toulouse’s fiery coach Guy Noves on Monday.

The 56-year-old supported his claim by saying he had seen much to please him in Toulouse’s 28-23 Top 14 victory over Racing-Metro on Friday which ensured Noves’ side a place in the championship play-offs.

Toulouse go into the match in better form than their opponents, who have had a woeful season on the domestic front and only eased their relegation worries on Saturday with a 19-10 victory over Clermont at the Stade de France.

Noves, though, is too seasoned a campaigner to take such contrasting domestic form as a guarantee that Toulouse will prevail.

“I think that that match (against Racing-Metro) was the ideal preparation for the meeting with Stade Francais,” said Noves, who has spent virtually the whole of his career at Toulouse playing for them from 1975-88 and has been head coach since 1993.

“I prefer to play a big team before such an important match as it fine-tunes our qualities. Last year for instance we suffered as a result of putting over 80 points past Mont-de-Marsan and the next week we lost to Clermont in the championship play-off semi-finals.

“Against Racing-Metro we won by being really focussed when we faced a tough challenge, and by rolling up our sleeves when it got tough.

“We were tested in terms of how we reacted when we were under pressure. Our spirit was good, and the players showed they were hungry for the fight.

“What is certain, is that we will be ready for Stade on Sunday.

We will not be caught unawares by the intensity and aggression of the Stade Francais players.

“And then of course, an added incentive for us is that they are Parisians.

“And one could say that they will be thinking the same about us, that we are Toulouse people, no?” he added with a smile.

Noves, who has guided Toulouse to seven domestic titles and three European Cup trophies, said that he did not believe the critics who claimed that Toulouse’s standards had fallen from the lofty heights of previous campaigns.

“There were a lot less handling errors against Racing-Metro than there had been in the defeat by Biarritz the weekend before,” said Noves, who was capped seven times by France.

“We cannot keep on creating attacking plays without accepting that we will drop the ball from time to time. If that was the case then we would just resort to a kicking game. I believe it is time to re-educate people.

“Toulouse has always sought to play attacking rugby but our opponents are getting better and better and the matches are increasingly tougher.

“There are no longer the points differences than there were 10 years ago.

“When everyone takes account of that, they will stop saying that we are not playing at our usual level.

“It is in fact that the other teams are making rapid progress all the time.

“When you look at the Racing-Metro team, they had nothing to fear from us on paper.”

Noves, who despite his phenomenal success has never been national team coach and was passed over the last time in replacing Bernard Laporte as Marc Lievremont got the nod instead in 2007, said he was particularly pleased at the way his scrum was performing.

“When I look back and see how our scrum were the match of Racing-Metro’s in the first-half and then dominated them in the second, I see that as a good sign for the Stade match,” said Noves.

“I saw the Perpignan scrum in a previous match shoved all over the pitch by that of Racing-Metro’s. Thus if our scrum was able to resist Racing’s successfully then it should be ready for that of Stade Francais, which is not better than that of Metro.”

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