Blair Kinghorn: ‘The mentality at Toulouse is that we win trophies’

<span>Blair Kinghorn celebrates with his <a class=Toulouse teammate Antoine Dupont after scoring against Exeter.Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/ b72aea34266dd10″ data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/ b72aea34266dd10 “/>

It’s been five months since Blair Kinghorn decided to move from Edinburgh to Toulouse mid-season. He has played ten matches and won them all. Toulouse are second in the Top 14, two points clear of Stade Français, and will play a home semi-final against Harlequins in the Champions Cup on Sunday.

Kinghorn has scored six tries and carved out a place for himself in a freewheeling backline featuring Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack and Thomas Ramos. He plays in front of 20,000 home crowds every other week. And he and his fiancée are settled in their new home, next door to his friend and teammate Jack Willis.

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How are you doing, given all this? think it works? “Honestly,” says Kinghorn, “I love it.” The match against Harlequins is another reminder of why he made the move. “You dream about big European knockout games, or big domestic knockout games, it had a big influence on my decision to come here.”

The move left many people short. Kinghorn had been playing in Edinburgh for eight years, his entire career, and had established himself as one of the best players in Scotland. He had become the youngest player to win 100 caps for the club. But he started to feel like he was stagnating.

“I just feel like I could have been better than I was. And that’s probably on me too: not working hard enough, not having to fight week in, week out for a place in the Edinburgh team. Possibly it made me a little complacent.” It’s not that he’s become lazy, he says: ‘I worked very hard in Edinburgh’, it’s just that no one was putting pressure on him. “I didn’t want to sit there and be a good player, I wanted to move and become an even better player, become a great player.”

He loves having to prove himself again. “There’s no stopping you, because if you don’t train well or play well, the team is so good that you just don’t get picked.” Toulouse use him as a full-back, with an odd appearance on the wing. And even though his French is still quite schoolboy – “I don’t understand much” – he gets along fine on the field.

“We play on instinct, you can see that in many of our games. A lot of the tries we score don’t come from set movements, we just play rugby and everyone adapts to each other.

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend described it as a good move for Kinghorn but a bad one for Scottish rugby. But he insists he is still committed to the national team. “I feel this will only develop me into a better player for Scotland. The things I’m going to learn here will make me excel at my own game and then hopefully I can get that back in good shape and do that for Scotland.”

Gloucester reached the Challenge Cup final for the fourth time after beating Italian hopefuls Benetton 40-23 at Kingsholm. George Skivington’s team will take on the South African Sharks at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 24. Despite struggling in the Premier League this season, Gloucester are now chasing more silverware after being crowned Premiership Rugby Cup winners in March.

Fly-half Adam Hastings (pictured) was the architect of Gloucester’s triumph, scoring 17 points via a try, three conversions and two penalties in his penultimate home appearance before returning to Glasgow this summer.

Fullback Josh Hathaway, hooker Seb Blake, lock Freddie Clarke and winger Ollie Thorley also hit the ground, while scrumhalf Caolan Englefield kicked a penalty ten minutes from time.

Benetton, semi-finalists in the Challenge Cup last season, pushed Gloucester hard as hooker Gianmarco Lucchesi (two) and wing-back Rhyno Smith scored tries – Tomas Albornoz added two penalties and a conversion – but two tries in four minutes midway through the second period yielded the home team’s breathing space.

The Sharks booked their place in the final after striking with a late try to topple Clermont 32-31 at the Twickenham Stoop. The 71st minute score was made possible by Eben successfully challenging Etzebeth for a kick, after which the South African side’s attack clicked into gear. A great offload from Vincent Tshituka found Lukhanyo Am and he drew the last defender before setting up a simple run-in for his Springboks teammate Makazole Mapimpi.
The Sharks, who trailed 31-18 heading into the final quarter, had Aphelele Fassi in the sin bin when Mapimpi struck and still needed Siya Masuku to pull off a tricky conversion to win. PA media

You need a certain style to fit into the Toulousain backline. So far this season they have scored 40 tries in six Champions Cup matches. Bath pushed them hardest, in an away game at the Rec, and Toulouse still won by 12. Ulster went down by 24, Exeter by 38, Cardiff by 45.

That was Kinghorn’s first game. He had never experienced anything like this before. “It’s definitely something extra when you play here at home,” he says. “All the fans that come out, week in, week out, are here hours before the game and hours after, completely mentally. It’s brilliant.

“In that first game the fans just blew me away. I’ve played against French teams before, you know how passionate they are, but it’s only when you hear them cheering for yourself that you realize how crazy it is. He scored twice and has played every European match since.

The match against Quins will be played in the city’s main stadium, which has a capacity of 33,000 people. Tickets sold out within 20 minutes. “They live and breathe rugby here and love to support the team. Every time you put on the jersey you feel that it is a huge honor to play for this great club and that is not something you can take lightly.”

Toulouse have not lost a home game this season. Or last season, come back to that. Quins beat Bordeaux-Bègles by a single point in the quarter-finals, but as Kinghorn will tell you, Toulouse are something else at home. “The mentality here is that we win trophies,” says Kinghorn. “Everyone wants to win. It’s everywhere in the club you go.”

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