"It's a formidable challenge but that makes it

Scott Johnson has warned his players that they will walk into a hostile environment when they face Toulon at Stade Mayol on Saturday afternoon.


The Ospreys Director of Coaching knows only too well what to expect from the French fans after spending a season at Toulon during the eighties, and he says that he doesn’t expect much to have changed in the intervening years:

“I know it will be a pretty hostile environment. One of their strong points is that they are pretty good at home, like most French sides. Another is that they have some wonderful players. Not too many of them are eligible for France, but they are wonderfully gifted, right across the park.

“When you look at their roster, it’s the equivalent of anyone in Europe and on any given day they can beat anyone. So it’s a formidable challenge, but that makes it more exciting.

“Unless things have changed since I was there it’s a very imposing place to be. Everyone is close to the pitch and they are quite fanatical about their support.

“But that excites people. It excites the visiting sides as well. You can soak it up and enjoy it. There’s so much more than just playing the game.

“We went out to Clermont last year and, although there were only around 15,000 people in the ground, the atmosphere was as imposing as any Test match I’ve been involved in — and as exciting as any Test. Going to places like that is what brings out the beauty of the sport.

“I haven’t enjoyed an atmosphere as much for a very long time. It lifted everyone and was as hard as any Test match — a really good game. A game like this in an environment like Toulon is exciting. It gets everyone’s juices and blood flowing.

“That’s what we’re about.”

After the Ospreys overcame a tough challenge in last weekend’s derby win over the Scarlets, Johnson says that he feels the Ospreys are slowly, but surely, approaching the level he wants to see from his players:

“We are trying to manage different people coming back at different times, which has been difficult, but we are further down the track and last Saturday was a great precursor to this weekend.

“It was a tough, knockout style game, very physical and a great hit-out and we largely came through it unscathed. So we’ll be in pretty good shape come the next couple of weeks.”

Johnson also added that while the Ospreys are aware of the threat in the Toulon side, with Jonny Wilkinson obviously being singled out by the media as their main man, he believes that the Ospreys will pose a threat of their own:

There’s 20-odd points in Wilkinson’s boot if he wants to do it that way. He’s kicked eight or nine drop goals this season already. It’s also about not putting him in a position that he can score easily. It’s going back to 2003, the World Cup — he’s scoring like that.

“We can ill-afford to give him opportunities. We can’t put ourselves under that pressure. He’s a quality player, but we have a couple in our side who are his equal. If Toulon give us half a sniff, too, we’ll be coming back at them.

As much as I admire Jonny and what he’s done, I wouldn’t swap the two boys on my team, either.”