Brive in the atmosphere

Jonathan Davies says Cardiff can spoil a French party in the European Cup today
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The Independent Online
Cardiff have been promised a great carnival atmosphere in the Parc Municipal des Sports at Brive this afternoon when we face the French club in the semi-final of the Heineken European Cup. We have been advised, however, not to expect too much jollity on the pitch.

The bands and the barbecues will be going full swing on the other side of the touchline but the game will be as physically serious as they come. Anyone who has played against France at international level will already be well aware of their commitment but they are just as fierce at club level - not least because they are paid on results.

And Brive's chances of an after-match drink depends on the game, too. Their middle-line jumper Tony Rees played for Cardiff until 1994 when he went off to play in Japan for Tokyo Gas. He joined Brive last summer and when he was back home playing for Emerging Wales recently he came to see his former club-mates. Tony told a grim tale of professional rugby union overseas. If you are injured playing for a team like Tokyo Gas, the time you take to recover is docked from your holidays. In Brive, they train every day at mid-day and then stay together for lunch and a talk. No excuses are accepted for lateness or absenteeism.

It helps to create a terrific team spirit which is just as well because they don't often enjoy a good drink together. Their coach, Pierre Montlaur, is not keen on alcohol. He'll allow them a little wine if they win but when they lost a cup match away to Colomiers just before Christmas they endured a five-hour coach journey home without a drop.

Our hopes of inflicting another teetotal evening on them tonight doesn't seem to be rated very highly. To be fair, the fate of British sides over there doesn't encourage an optimistic view of our chances. But we've been feeling very confident in training over the past week and are determined not to be intimidated.

It helps that we have gleaned a lot from the experiences of other British teams who have played over there, particularly Llanelli who put up a good show against Brive in an earlier round. We were determined not to make the same mistake as Llanelli who had an exhausting day of travelling on the eve of the match. We flew direct from Cardiff but our hopes of arriving in plenty of time were ruined by fog, diversions and general delays that meant our three-hour journey took seven hours.

Llanelli's coach Gareth Jenkins has given valuable advice to Terry Holmes and we have studied their play on video. They have an excellent back row, a good goal-kicker and inventive half-backs. Their speciality is the rolling maul which we hope to be able to do something about. But our chances depend on our own play and not theirs. We have been handicapped by a lack of playing together over the past few months and this was evidentagainst Pontypridd last weekend. For a start, we lost our home advantage. When our pitch was declared unplayable, it meant only a move next door to the National Stadium but it was like playing on a neutral ground.

Nevertheless, we should have made more of our good start. We could have been 10 or 15 points up at half-time but for some adverse bounces and rusty handling and I mean no discredit to Pontypridd, who played very well, when I say that the refereeing left many of us perplexed. We missed a valuable match against Swansea because of the referees' strike the weekend before Christmas. It reminded us how vital they are to the game. But now that they are getting paid I hope we can expect a touch more efficiency. People demand better things from players these days and I think referees come under the same category.

There is no point talking about specific incidents. It sounds like sour grapes. But there were decisions made in that game that even now I don't understand. Ex-internationals were coming up after to ask me why this or that decision was made and I couldn't help. If the players don't understand, and the experts in the stand don't either, what chance have the fans got?

Consistency and communication - that's what we need. For players and referees, spectators are our customers now. We might not be able satisfy them always but there is no reason why they should go home bewildered.

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