EDINBURGH’S Ben Toolis believes his team’s gritty European Champions Cup victory away to Sale Sharks last weekend – in the club’s final outing of 2020 – can be the launchpad to a strong end to the season.

The capital outfit failed to maintain their pre-lockdown form when rugby resumed in August, losing all but three out of 12 games going into that encounter at the AJ Bell Stadium, but produced a purposeful – if unspectacular – performance to resurrect their faltering Champions Cup campaign last weekend.

Now the focus turns back to the PRO14, and second-row Toolis believes a clash against their great rivals from along the M8 is the ideal opportunity for Edinburgh to build some serious momentum.

“We’re all mates off the pitch and we get on well with the Glasgow boys when we’re in camp, but at the end of the day, it is a derby game so you always find an extra bit of motivation and determination to try to play your best game and get the win,” he said.

“These are important games. They all add up in the table and it’s usually pretty entertaining, too. The boys definitely get up for them and that creates a vibe through the week. You thrive on that intensity and try to relish the moment. You go out and play for each other.

“Going 12-0 down at half time against Sale wasn’t ideal, but it was a really big win for a number of reasons, especially the fact we fought back like we had to. We probably should have put some points on the board in the first half, but the spirit we showed to get back into the game was brilliant and then to just keep the scoreboard ticking over.

“Our discipline was really good defensively – we only gave six penalties away – so we can take positives from that. While there are still areas we need to improve on, we’ll take confidence from that win. Sale are a really good team with world-class players so to beat them on their own patch was a big thing. Now we want to push on. We’ve got some big games coming up with Glasgow and Zebre and then back into the Champ-ions Cup.”

The enclosed nature of Scottish professional rugby – with only two sides – means there is a lot of familiarity between the teams, but Toolis confirmed there would be little festive cheer shared between opposing players this week ahead of the big match.

“We tend to steer clear,” said Toolis. “If you’re in the Scotland set-up that’s when you start to socialise again. You catch up with them every now and again or send them a message on Instagram and have a bit of craic. But normally you just keep yourself to yourself ahead of the derby, play the game and then after the game you can catch up. There’s off-the-field respect there and that’s what rugby is all about.”

For Toolis there will be a particular edge to this game after a frustrating Autumn Test series during which he made only one appearance against Georgia, before finding himself stuck behind Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray and Sam Skinner in the second-row pecking order.

Naturally, he is viewing next weekend’s head-to-head against Cummings as an opportunity to make his point to national team head coach
Gregor Townsend.

“Second row is probably the most depth we have in Scotland so obviously you want to try and play better against your rival, but more importantly you are focused on getting the win and hopefully you put your best foot forward to contribute to that victory,” he said.

“The way you win this game is playing well individually and as a team. So, it is definitely an opportunity for both teams, and the individuals involved, to go out and show their best game.”

Both sides had this weekend off after the first leg of this season’s 1872 Cup triple-header was called off due to a Covid outbreak in the Warriors camp. However, the most recent round of tests just before Christmas came back all clear, and Toolis believes Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill has managed to strike the right balance between giving his players some revitalising downtime and getting some extra training in while their opponents have been restricted in their prep by Covid safety protocols.

“We got an extra couple days round Christmas, but Glasgow is an important game for us, so it is about starting next week with the right attitude,” he said. “With the history behind it, we know it will be a very intense match – and that will be for the fans as well watching at home.

“These games are usually played back-to-back, but we’ve had a few interruptions this season, so we’ve got used to that by now. We’ll just try to use the momentum of that Sale game to start well in this game and hopefully keep going in the right direction.”