Heineken Cup hasn’t reduced Toulon’s desire

Toulon coach Bernard Laporte has insisted that Toulon’s Heineken Cup success two weeks ago has done nothing to reduce his players’ determination to add the French Top 14 title to their trophy room this weekend.

Favourites Toulon tackle surprise finalists Castres at the Stade de France on Saturday aiming to become the first French team since Toulouse in the inaugural European Cup season to complete the double of French and European honours.

Having upset Clermont to win the European Cup two weeks ago and then seen outsiders Castres stun Clermont in the Top 14 semi-finals a week ago, Toulon are expected to romp to a second trophy on Saturday.

Yet former France coach Laporte insists his side won’t be taking Castres lightly.

“I see the group evolving as it’s always evolved, with a lot of humility, a lot of seriousness and a lot of camaraderie,” said Laporte.

“And that’s not a word that’s just bandied about, these guys are buddies.

“It’s obvious, I’ve never felt otherwise, apart from once or twice, such as at Bordeaux (when Toulon were thrashed 41-0 by the minnows in February).

“The rest of the time, when they had to win games, I’ve always felt this desire to give everything for each other. There are no morons in this team.”

However, despite his insistence that Toulon will be fully concentrated in Paris, Laporte could not deny that the southern club have already attained their major objective for the season — a first ever European title.

Asked if it was more important to win the Top 14 title for the first time since 1992, Laporte found the idea laughable.

“It would be ridiculous to say that. There is an order of things. When you are European champions, you are champions of … Europe!” he said.

“But then, culturally… When I was born there was only the Brennus (the French title) but I’m not convinced that for the foreigners who come here that they’ve got that culture.”

While foreign players may dream more of European glory than domestic success, for Castres, winning any trophy would be an exploit in itself.

Although they succeeded Toulon as French champions in 1993, thus matching their rivals’ achievement of three French crowns, they do not have the same financial backing as Toulon.

So much so that coaching tandem Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers have been tempted away by big-spending Parisians Racing Metro for next season.

Yet Labit says that Castres can upset the applecart in their last match in charge.

“I don’t think they (Toulon) have any weak points but, as we often say, anything can happen in a one-off match,” said Labit.

“We have to replicate the match we produced last week (against Clermont) in the strategy we want to adopt, in our commitment, in our spirit, and hope that Toulon play a little less well given it will be a third top level match in a row without changing around their team much.”

Since their shock 25-9 success against Clermont, Labit and Travers have been working on ensuring their players don’t rest on their laurels thinking they’ve already over-achieved.

“We were attentive to that to make sure our season didn’t end last weekend. It’s wonderful to beat Clermont but we didn’t want our players to start celebrating,” said Labit.

Castres’ improvement under their coaching duo has been incremental, reaching the quarter-finals two and three years ago, graduating to the semi-finals last season and now reaching the showcase finale in this campaign.

Toulon were in the final a year ago where they came up short against Toulouse, who Laporte’s men outclassed in the semi-finals this time around.

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