TOULOUSE, FRANCE – Top 14 giants Toulouse halted their worst losing run in 50 years with a brutal at-all-costs win over Stade Francais at what had seemed to be a teetering fortress Stade Ernest Wallon.
Former All Black Luke McAlister kicked 17 points in a crucial if ugly 22-10 victory that ended a five-match losing streak.
McAlister told Rugby Wrap Up just how important it was: “It was huge for us,” he said. “Having lost the last five, we’d been getting flack in the media. For us it was a huge win – and it was pretty much the start of our season.
“When you’ve lost the last five… it’s bound to be a new start.”
He wasn’t kidding.
The 19-time French champions followed that win over Stade by gatecrashing Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny’s long-awaited debut for Toulon in impressive style on Sunday. The score was a near mirror of the previous week, with Toulouse winning 21-10.
Again, McAlister was instrumental. He notched 11 points, and his inch-perfect garryowen gifted Gael Fickou the game’s opening try after six minutes.
Toulon hadn’t come to leave with nothing. As well as Halfpenny, who proved to be less rusty than many had expected, the Var side included Bryan Habana, Bakkies Botha, Juan Martin Hernandez Lobbe, James O’Connor, Ali Williams, Drew Mitchell and Chris Masoe in their squad.
Speaking before that second win that moved the 19-time French champions from 13th to eighth in the Top 14, and confirmed that they probably, finally, had lost that losing feeling, McAlister said: “We expect our opponents to send their best team. There are no easy games in this competition any more.”
But. if the Top 14 is tough, the new European Rugby Champions Cup – which kicks off this week – promises to take club rugby to a new level entirely, he admitted.
Even in Europe, Toulouse can’t escape the Top 14. They kick off their challenge for the title at home to Montpellier at Ernest Wallon. But, McAlister said: ““There’s a lot of pressure riding on these games. There’s a big step up during the week in terms of training.
“Europe is another step up. I wouldn’t say it’s the bigger competition but a European match is more intense than a normal Top 14 game.
“We’re in probably one of the better groups than a couple of the others. But, Montpellier are in form and I’ve caught a couple of Bath games and they’re doing well and playing some exciting rugby. I’ve not had a chance to catch Glasgow yet – but it’s a challenging competition and every game is going to be difficult whether home or away.”
The European break has probably come at a bad time for Toulouse in terms of the Top 14. They’re on a roll after those wins over Stade and Toulon. A couple more weeks of domestic action could have seen them drag themselves right back into the top six.
They still harbour genuine play-off ambitions.
As McAlister said: “We’re definitely still aiming for the play-offs. It’s a long season over here – if we pick up wins and bonus points in the games we’ve got left, I’m sure we can get back up into the top half.
“The league is just so unpredictable, with teams doing so well that in the past haven’t been so strong. Anyone can beat anyone else on any given day.”
McAlister is also definite that his future is Toulouse, despite reports in the French media that Racing Metro’s moneybags president Jacky Lorenzetti was interested in his signature when his Toulouse deal was finished.
He said: “I saw that but I hadn’t heard anything about it. I’m not sure where that has come from.
“I don’t know who has chucked it out there, but I’m with Toulouse for the season and then another two, with another option. I’ve got – potentially – another four years here.
“I want to stay in Toulouse. I love it here. I love the team, I love the supporters, I love the city.
“I’ll see what happens when my contract’s up. I’m 31 at the moment, so I’ll be 34 then… I’ve got a few more years here, and I’ve no plans to leave any time soon.”
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@ :RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.