THIS time last year Richie Gray was part of the Lyon coaching team which masterminded a 30-12 victory over Toulon in the Challenge Cup final. Since switching clubs in the summer, the Gala man has already helped Toulon avenge that defeat with a 48-23 win over Lyon in this season’s quarter-final. Now he is out to help his new employers go one better than 2022 by beating Glasgow in tonight’s final.

A contact and collision specialist, the much-travelled Gray – no relation to the Warriors lock of the same name – agreed to follow Pierre Mignoni to Toulon after the former France scrum-half ended a seven-year stint with Lyon. Having been head coach at Lyon, Mignoni now has a wider brief as director of rugby at Toulon, his hometown club and the team where he began his professional career as a player.

A lot has changed since Toulon – official name Rugby Club Toulonnais – were champions of Europe for three seasons on the trot from 2013. They still have a sprinkling of stardust in the team – Springboks winger Cheslin Kolbe and Italian legend Sergio Parisse, for example – but according to Gray there is now a lot more emphasis on the grassroots of the game in the local area.

“Toulon had an incredible team

of galacticos and were used to winning European Cups and Top 14s,” Gray explained. “Then it fell away a little bit.

“Pierre, being a Toulon man, wants to develop the whole club. They have a thing called RCT Passion where they want to bring in the whole of the local community and create a feeling of pride in the town and the city and outlying areas – because the catchment area for Toulon is phenomenal when you take in Marseille, Nice and Provence. They love their rugby.

“Toulon have an incredible facility now; most of the French teams have spent a lot on their facilities. There wasn’t a lot done on that a while back, with most of the money being spent on the players.

“Now every one of them has Espoirs [youth teams], high-performance facilities, academy, strength and conditioning, and the medical side has got a lot better. You have the best players in the world there, in the toughest league in the world. Top 14 is relentless.”

Despite having worked most recently in France then before that with Vern Cotter in Fiji, Gray keeps a close eye on events back home, and has been impressed by Glasgow’s progress in their first season under head coach Franco Smith. “They’ve done really well,” he continued. “They started slowly, and Franco has done a phenomenal job.

“I know him well – we worked together when we were in South Africa. He’s a good coach and they have very good players. It’s almost the Scottish national team they have there. They’ve developed the side over the season and got better and better. They are a confident, well-drilled, very fit, physical team. He’s done a great job.”

While the likes of Kolbe and Parisse are well known throughout the world of rugby, two other members of the Toulon starting line-up will be of especial interest to Scottish spectators: former Scotland back-row Cornell du Preez and ex-Warriors lock Brian Alainu’uese.

“I’ve always rated Cornell,” Gray said. “He’s a kind of silent, hard worker. He doesn’t always stick out on tape – you won’t see him do 30-metre runs and spin passes – but he’s constantly working the whole time. He’s got a phenomenal work ethic, does a lot of the dirty work that nobody sees, tying things up. He’s a very, very good rugby player, good rugby brain, and reliable.

“If you look at the minutes that Brian has played this year, I think he’s just about played every game for us. I think he’s only had a couple of rests. He’s been a revelation this year.

“I don’t think he got a lot of game time at Glasgow. They had some big players there so there was always a good squad. But he’s been excellent for us. And good on and off the field.”

Lyon got the better of Danny Wilson’s Warriors in the quarter-finals last year, but Gray does not expect that result to have any relevance tonight. “Totally different this season, really. Lyon are completely different to Toulon. We had different types of players in different positions, so you can’t really equate both of them.

“Glasgow have consistently always been a tough side, well drilled, good feeling in the group. I’ve coached a number of the players – Ryan [Wilson] and Richie [Gray] and Zander [Fagerson] and the guys.

“It’s Ryan’s last year, so I’m sure there will be a lot of emotion round about that as well. They’ll want to send him off with a memorable end to the season. They’ve been fighting on two fronts and we’ve been the same.”

- Richie Gray was talking at a World Rugby ‘Tackle Ready’ roadshow at Oriam.