Gloucester Rugby: There will be no better test than Toulon
HEINEKEN Cup champions Toulon have the blueprint for success that Gloucester must fight to follow, believes Kingsholm boss Nigel Davies.
Rugby director Davies has told his Gloucester squad they can lift many a page out of the moneyed French elite club's gold leaf-lined book.
The former Wales centre is hardly telling the Cherry and Whites to start flashing the cash.
Instead he wants Gloucester to build the kind of stubborn consistency that has carried the Mediterranean port club to the top of the European game.
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Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal's comic book empire leaves him open to bankroll a revolving door of the world's top talent.
Gloucester's prudent approach is clearly at odds with the free-spending Frenchmen.
But Davies believes that is no barrier to the Cherry and Whites hitting the heights of northern hemisphere club rugby.
Gloucester will open their 15-a-side pre-season programme against Bernard Laporte's men at Stade Mayol tomorrow night (kick-off 7.30pm BST).
Looking forward to pitting the Kingsholm men against some of the world's top stars, Davies explained: "We have purposely arranged an extremely testing pre-season match schedule.
"We have aspirations to emulate the success of the very top clubs, just like Toulon.
"And so there is no better test for us at this point, to go up against a side whose footsteps we want to follow.
"It's obviously a big call to say we want to elevate ourselves to that kind of status.
"But there's no point being in these competitions if you don't have the ambitions to win them.
"It's not to say we expect to go out there and beat every team in Europe this season.
"But we'll certainly go out there and give it everything we've got.
"We are moving forward, progressing well, and this is our second season as a squad, and there's definitely a lot of development left in the make-up of the Gloucester squad this year.
"It's exciting to be at the stage now where we can take to match action.
"The players and coaches have worked tirelessly all pre-season, on conditioning, strength, tactics, analysis and mental strength, among other things too.
"Now we are at the point where we have to start bringing all of that together, to ensure all that planning takes hold on the field.
"Clearly the purpose of everything we've done has been to shape a stronger, more robust and more successful squad.
"I believe we've done everything we can up to this point in our pursuit of success.
"And now the big challenge is to carry that forward and turn that good feeling into consistent success."
South African World Cup-winning wing Bryan Habana and Italian scrummaging cornerstone Martin Castrogiovanni are Toulon's latest high-profile recruits.
Last term's French Top 14 finalists have already beaten Bordeaux-Begles 34-23 and Racing Metro 14-6 in their pre-season run.
Tomorrow's clash is Toulon's last before embarking on their new league campaign.
And ominously they edged out fellow big-spenders Racing last week, despite the Parisians boasting powerhouses such as Brian Mujati, Soane Tonga'uhia and Juandre Kruger.
Jonny Wilkinson, Bakkies Botha, Chris Masoe, Michael Claassens, Habana, Maxime Mermoz, the Armitage brothers, Carl Hayman and more besides helped Toulon to victory last week.
Gloucester have spent eight days embroiled in brutal altitude training in Tignes – but not even that Alpine regime will prepare them for tomorrow's star-studded onslaught.