Paris - Toulouse scrumhalf Luke Burgess is hoping for happier times at Murrayfield than his last visit when he heads to the Scottish capital for his side’s Heineken Cup quarter-final on Saturday, 7 April.
The 28-year-old Australian international was on the wrong side of Scotland’s first win over the Wallabies in 27 years on his last outing at Murrayfield in November, 2009, and still recalls the atmosphere created on that famous day for Scottish rugby.
“We lost 9-8 and the noise from the stands as the game wore on just grew and grew. Murrayfield is a fantastic ground with a great atmosphere and you can really feel the heart-throb of the stadium,” said Burgess, a 63rd minute replacement on that occasion.
“We went into that game as firm favourites and got beaten. So, I’m hoping the same thing won’t happen again when I return with Toulouse.
“We all know how well Edinburgh have been playing in the Heineken Cup this season and a number of our players have already played at Murrayfield this season with the French national side in the 6 Nations. There certainly won’t be any complacency on our part.”
Burgess picked up a Tri-Nations winners medal and a Rugby World Cup Bronze medal last year and has his sights set firmly on becoming only the sixth Australian to win the Heineken Cup. His former Wallaby team-mate Rocky Elsom did it at the end of his first season at Irish club, Leinster Rugby, and that is now Burgess’ goal.
Four-time Heineken Cup champions, Toulouse, are fighting on two fronts at the moment – they are on top of the Top 14 and still in the Heineken Cup – and Burgess is getting a taste of the pressure-cooker environment that the French giants crave every season.
“Playing in the Heineken Cup was a massive carrot for me when I was considering a switch to Europe. It poses different challenges to those which I had become used to in the Super 14 and Tri-Nations,” admitted Burgess.
“The rugby is totally different – it is slower than Super 14, but much more physical. That makes it a bit more strategic and you have to be smart. The professionalism among the players and coaches is exactly the same, but there are some subtle differences.
“I’ve also found that teams love to scrummage in Europe and run into each other, whereas the Super 14 is more about space, speed and evasion. The referees’ interpretations are also a lot different.
“The Heineken Cup is a very big part of what Toulouse is all about and they love to express themselves on the European stage. It has been a great experience so far playing in places like Connacht, Harlequins and Gloucester.”
Burgess got off to a flying start by picking up the Heineken Man of the Match award on his European debut in the 21-17 home win over Gloucester. He started the first three games, sat on the bench and had to watch as his replacement Jean-Marc Doussain picked up the Man of the Match award in the home defeat against Harlequins and then returned to the starting line-up for the final two rounds.
“I had some big shoes to fill at Toulouse coming into a club where the previous scrum halves had been Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and Byron Kelleher, both of who won the Heineken Cup,” said Burgess.
“Jean-Baptiste was one of the most intelligent half-backs I have seen and he is a very interesting guy to work with.”
With 37 caps to his name, and a pretty successful World Cup campaign under his belt, Burgess felt the time was right for him to take on the European challenge rather than stay in Australia and experience the expanded Super 15 and the new Rugby Championship.
He has also given up the chance to battle for a game against the British & Irish Lions next year on home soil, but a Heineken Cup winner’s medal might just make up for that. His name would sit nicely alongside those fellow Australians who have conquered Europe, Rocky Elsom (2009), Pat Howard (2001), Rod Kafer (2002), Paul Warwick (2008) and Chris Whitaker (2009).