The heartbreak hotel that was the Saracens changing room after they came so close to taking a cherished scalp on Saturday may yet also be seen as a milestone on the road to the settled, powerful game their Australian coach, Alan Gaffney, wants to build.
Against Glasgow in their first Heineken Cup match the week before, the charge was that Saracens were too patchy and vulnerable in defence. They gave away two late tries and just scraped home. While they did let in one try in Biarritz, the first at home for the French side this season, it was not any lack of commitment in the tackle that let the Premiership side down. It was the number of penalties they conceded.
Though he missed four times, they could not afford to give a man like Dimitri Yachvili nine opportunities. In the best tradition of sporting cliffhangers, the scrum-half took his last chance from a metre inside the Saracens half to snatch victory. After that, there was time only for one more phase of play.
These two have been drawn together in the Heineken Cup once before, in 2005-06, when they both won at home. But since 2000 Biarritz have twice made the quarter-finals, once the semis and once the final; Saracens have never made it beyond the pool stages.
To avoid the lottery of taking one of the quarter-final places available to the best pool runners-up depends, as always, on a lot of ifs and buts. Saracens' next two European matches, either side of Christmas and New Year, are against the outweighed Italians of Viadana. Biarritz beat them at home on the first weekend but the Basques' coach, Patrice Lagisquet, who can get pretty het up at the best of times, was not happy at all about some of the Italian footwork in the close encounters. Injuries are a constant wildcard in any planning for this tournament.
Saracens' last two matches are against Biarritz at home and Glasgow away. That is not an easy endgame, even if Vicarage Road proves a minefield for Biarritz again.
Here, though the win was the most important thing for Lagisquet, the 54th-minute try grabbed by Philippe Bidabé was pretty valuable for a side outgunned three tries to one. The boot of Yachvili was again the match-winner but Biarritz, who also scored only one try at Viadana, cannot rely on him forever. Lagisquet is understandably eager to bring into play the searing speed of the 22-year old Zimbabwean-born Takudzwa Ngwenya.
Remember him? He was the guy who, playing for the United States in the recent World Cup, left the Springbok speedster Bryan Habana for dead for the try of the tournament. Ngwenya may yet only be a foot racer who can also carry a football, rather than a rounded rugby player, but the Biarritz crowd will be eager to see him play.
Biarritz's more immediate worries are hosting Toulouse next weekend and then travelling to Bayonne for a local derby.
Saracens need to keep up the improvement they feel they have made inside a week. Gaffney will soon be able to add the strength and guile of the All Black second row Chris Jack to the mix.
In future, their byword will be "discipline" in order to gain the resolve needed to put a game away when the opportunity is there.
Biarritz: Try Bidabé; Conversion Yachvili; Penalties Yachvili 5. Saracens: Tries Ratuvou, Penney, Farrell; Conversions Jackson 3.
Biarritz: N Brusque; A Willemse, M Bosch, D Traille, P Bidabé; J Peyrelongue, D Yachvili; P Balan (E Coetzee, 40), B Noirot (M Cortese, 67), B Lecouls (P Balan, 75), D Couzinet (M Carizza 46, J Thion (capt), A Creevy (S Malonga, 43), I Harinordoquy, S Vahafolau (J Cronje, 71).
Saracens: R Haughton; R Penney, K Sorrell, A Farrell, K Ratuvou; G Jackson, N de Kock (capt); N Lloyd, M Cairns, T Mercey (C Visagie, 40), T Ryder, H Vyvyan, K Chesney, R Hill (D Seymour, 50), B Skirving (P Gustard, 55).
Referee: M Changeling (Scotland).Reuse content