It is a first Amlin Challenge Cup final for RC Toulon – but Director of Rugby Philippe Saint-Andre knows exactly what it takes to win the showpiece match.
While the French club will be taking a step into the unknown when they meet Cardiff Blues at Stade Velodrome in Marseille on Sunday afternoon, Saint-Andre tasted European success when he guided Sale Sharks to the title five years ago.
“It was tremendous to win the title with Sale but that was then and now we at Toulon must try and win some silverware this year – it is hugely important that we finish off the advances we have made,” said Saint-Andre, the 43-year-old former wing ace capped 68 times by France, 34 of them as captain.
“Toulon are a club with a lot of great history but they were down for a number of years and now it is good to be back as a force in the Top 14 and in Europe. Being second in the Top 14 was good and much of that was down to us really gelling as a team around mid-season.”
Toulon did lose 35-29 to ASM Clermont Auvergne in the Top 14 semi-finals at the weekend but had been on a real roll of 11 straight wins since losing 28-9 at Saracens in the Amlin Challenge Cup Pool stages on 14 January – including victories over both Heineken Cup finalists Biarritz Olympique and Toulouse – and their 18 wins in the regular season of Top 14 matches was more than anyone else managed and one better than table toppers Perpignan.
“The Amlin Challenge Cup is a very good and exciting competition and I am extremely proud to be in the final,” he said.
“The tournament is all the better for the change that saw three Heineken Cup Pool runners-up join us in the quarter-finals and to have Cardiff Blues, Gloucester and the Scarlets coming in gave the Amlin Challenge Cup a real lift.
“The fact that we now have an original Amlin Challenge Cup team and an original Heineken Cup team in the final proves what a great idea it was.
“We are pleased to have achieved what we have already done this season and obviously a lot of that success is down to having players of the calibre of Jonny Wilkinson, Joe van Niekerk and Juan Fernandez Lobbe to select.
“But we know we are in for a very tough final against Cardiff Blues. They were originally in the Heineken Cup this season but since they came into the Amlin Challenge Cup at the quarter-finals they have beaten Newcastle Falcons away and London Wasps away.
“They have top class quality players everywhere but a fabulous back three in particular and strong in the midfield with players like Jamie Roberts.
“The Blues like to play a loose and quick game, they have a fantastic kicker in Ben Blair and one of the best loosehead props in the world in Gethin Jenkins.
“I honestly believe we are in for a fantastic and amazing game as we try to win the Amlin title in a stadium where we know we will once again have incredible support. We owe it to our fans to win some silverware this season.”