Toulouse's rocky future
June 7, 2011
Guy Noves addresses the crowds gathered for Toulouse's Top 14 celebration © Getty Images
As a city, Toulouse has become well used to public celebrations on the streets after the rugby team's numerous successes, but something felt different at the weekend. The supporters celebrated as they do, with thousands turning out to rejoice at Saturday night's Top 14 Final win over Montpellier and again on Sunday for the homecoming at Capitole.
Yet it is the persistent rumours over the future of Guy Novès that have dominated conversations in the city's bars and restaurants in recent days. No one quite knows what life in Toulouse would be like without the 57-year-old and it's fair to say that no-one wants to find out.
The impending vacancy (post Rugby World Cup) as France head coach is thought to be the reason behind the rumours, although Novès has never publicly declared his interest in the role. But at the weekend, he did deliver a dose of ambiguity.
During an interview with Canal + he said he was under contract at Toulouse "in principle" before mysteriously not turning up to the post-match press conference. Tongues started wagging, to the point that by Sunday afternoon, Novès had reiterated his loyalty to the club by declaring to the thousands at the homecoming that he was "100% Toulousain".
"It made me smile because I don't believe it's possible," backs coach Jean-Baptiste Elissalde told the France 3 television channel. "He's responded - 100% Toulousain if not a little more.
"We were together yesterday evening. We met up one last time to celebrate this title and it didn't seem like the right time to talk about things like this. We'll see what the future brings but there is a relationship of confidence [between us] and we would have already talked about it."
Elissalde and forwards coach Yannick Bru, both former players, are part of what is seen as the future of Toulouse, but all three will have their work cut out to keep the club at the very top in the next couple of seasons. Saturday's match contained farewells for the likes of Cedric Heymans, Frederic Michalak, David Skrela, Byron Kelleher and Alberto Vernet Basualdo, while next season will herald the arrivals of Luke Burgess, Luke McAlister and Lionel Beauxis. Consistency has been a key strength of Toulouse over the years, with a very low turnover of players, but that will become more difficult with further retirements on the cards.
"I don't think next year will be a necessarily good year for us," Elissalde continued. "You've got the World Cup, a lot of midweek matches, 11 matches without the internationals, maybe more if France gets to the World Cup final. It looks like being a difficult year when put in perspective."
All the better then that Toulouse were able to crawl home at the weekend. It wasn't their finest performance by their lofty standards but then again it didn't really have to be. Brave Montpellier, in the first appearance in a French final, threw the kitchen sink at their illustrious rivals for 70 minutes before finally running out of puff. But the match was of a poor standard, and a world away from the level set by Leinster and Northampton in the Heineken Cup final a few weeks ago, according to former France fly-half Alain Penaud.
"I found the standard of the match to be pretty low," he wrote in l'Equipe. "The conditions didn't help, what with the slippy surface, but overall, both teams had trouble holding onto the ball. Compared to the European Cup Final, it wasn't on the same planet, that's for sure.
"When they review the game, Montpellier will have some big regrets. Compared with how they played during the season, they never really got going, perhaps because of the pressure of the challenge and the young players not taking the occasion in their stride. I'd imagine it will create a lot of tension. When you don't turn up for a final that tends to exacerbate feelings of remorse." When it's all said and done however, it was the name of Stade Toulousain that was etched onto the Bouclier de Brennus. No-one will remember if the game was a classic or not, save for the Montpellier fans. Another French final, another Toulouse title.
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