Struggling Toulon face Edinburgh acid test
Barn-storming France centre Mathieu Bastareaud makes a welcome return for three-time champions Toulon when the struggling Top 14 giants bid to resurrect their faltering season at Edinburgh in the European Champions Cup on Saturday.
Bastareaud, who has emerged as a real leader having captained not only Toulon but the France XV in recent seasons, has sat out the last five weeks after being banned for punching in a rash act of stupidity he immediately regretted.
It turned out to be a most costly suspension as Toulon managed only two wins in their opening seven Top 14 games of the season and last week suffered a humiliating one-point loss to Newcastle, who became only the second team after Saracens to notch up a European win on Toulon soil.
"He's a leader, the skipper," Toulon backs coach and former scrum-half Sebastien Tillous-Borde said of Bastareaud ahead of the Pool 5 match.
"It's important he's there in the squad and on the paddock to help guide the the team and help it in its game management."
For all that there has been a turnover in personnel, with the influential likes of Matt Giteau and Leigh Halfpenny having left the club, Toulon can still boast an array of top players, such as Tongan-born All Black centre Malakai Fekitoa.
The 24-times capped back insisted there was no panic in Toulon ranks despite their frustrating 26-25 defeat by Newcastle, coach Patrice Collazo taking the blame for urging his players to go for the try rather than a penalty at the end of the game.
"We've all been playing for a long time now, we know the system," Fekitoa said.
"We're all right behind the team and we're focusing on the process and not the result.
"I think we're going in the right direction and we're going to focus every day on playing together to win."
Fekitoa, whose fellow All Black teammate Liam Messam will miss the game after picking up a four-week ban for a dangerous tackle, added: "We've been struggling in the first few days, but we do go out to win every match."
- Heads up -
Springbok lock Juandre Kruger said all the players shared president Mourad Boudjellal's "disappointment" with the Falcons result, but were targeting Edinburgh, who lost 21-15 at Montpellier in their opening match.
"We had a chance to win the game, but we didn't take that chance," Kruger said.
"The best thing we can do is forget that and rebuild, lift our heads up, stay positive and do what we're capable of doing."
Kruger added: "Edinburgh played well against Montpellier, they also had the chance to win.
"It'll be a huge challenge this weekend."
There will be a degree of deja vu for Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill, one of four coaches Boudjellal brought in to Toulon last season before the appointment of Collazo from La Rochelle.
Edinburgh, with 15 players named in Scotland's 40-man squad for the Autumn Tests, were unlucky against Montpellier and Cockerill said a "bumper crowd would definitely give us an edge" against Toulon at Murrayfield.
"We played well against Montpellier and probably did enough to win the game," said former Leicester and England prop Cockerill.
"We were disappointed that we didn't come away more than a (defensive bonus) point. We let in a few sloppy tries, but we fought hard and got ourselves back in the game.
"We had our fair share of opportunities to win the game, so from that point of view it was disappointing, but from a positive we did some really good things against a strong Montpellier team.
"We've got to do it against another very good French team in Toulon. They had a poor result against Newcastle Falcons at the weekend and they'll be coming to BT Murrayfield to prove a point."
Defending champions Leinster, who hammered Wasps in their Pool 1 opener, travel to Toulouse, while English champions Exeter are away to Castres in Pool 2, Saracens entertain Lyon in Pool 3, and last year's beaten finalists Racing 92 host Ulster in Pool 4.
© 2018 AFP