Lund urges Basque underdogs to draw on pain of 2006 defeat
Saturday 22 May 2010
Biarritz are not, as things currently stand, among the best half-dozen teams in France; they cannot call on the services of their match-winning back Damien Traille, who fractured his forearm a few weeks ago; and the rugby they play is, more often than not, so lacking in colour and grandeur that it is hard to believe the great Serge Blanco spent a sporting lifetime at the club.
They are not, therefore, the most likely candidates to upset the applecart by beating Toulouse in this afternoon's Heineken Cup final.
But they are the only candidates in town, and according to Magnus Lund, the Norwegian who won a fistful of caps for England under Andy Robinson and Brian Ashton, a Basque victory against the odds is far from an impossibility.
"A lot of people have been doubting us," the flanker said yesterday after being named alongside the extravagantly-named Wenceslas Lauret and the extravagantly-gifted Imanol Harinordoquy in a distinctly useful back-row combination. "It was a case of 'should we really be in the quarter-finals?' followed by 'should we really be in the semi-finals?' I think our victories over Ospreys and Munster proved a few people wrong, but if they want to keep writing us off anyway, we're happy just to go out there and do the work."
Lund is playing some decent stuff these days – his energy level in the semi-final win over Munster in San Sebastian was very high indeed – and if Lauret and Harinordoquy are equally charged, it is possible to see the outsiders asking Toulouse an awkward question or two, especially as Dimitri Yachvili, their scrum-half, is operating at something close to the optimum after a lengthy spell in the doldrums.
"Some of our players have been in a Heineken final before and were determined right from the start of the season to experience it again," Lund continued. "And this time, they want to win."
He was referring to the likes of Yachvili and Harinordoquy, along with the hooker Benoît August, the lock Jerome Thion and the outside-half Julien Peyrelongue, all of whom started the 2006 final against Munster and spent so much of it playing not to lose that they ended up doing precisely that. Will they take a different approach at Stade de France today? Probably not. If the Basques could not pluck up the courage to trust their skills against a side like Munster, it is difficult to imagine them playing fast and loose against a side as dangerous as Toulouse.
Cedric Heymans, Yann David, Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, Louis Picamoles – these are quality players. They're also on the bench. The Toulouse starting XV is, as you might expect, better still, and if Biarritz are serious about keeping Clément Poitrenaud, Vincent Clerc, Maxime Medard, Florian Fritz and Yannick Jauzion under lock and key for the entirety of the game, they will all have to tackle like Lund... and then tackle some more.
As Leinster, the defending champions, discovered to their disadvantage in the semi-final, Toulouse can win even the most intensely competitive of games in 10 minutes flat. A fourth title for the men in red and black will reinforce their status as the outstanding campaigners in European rugby. It will also confirm, once and for all, that Guy Noves is one of the world's great coaches – that his place in the pantheon, alongside his predecessors Pierre Villepreux and Jean-Claude Skrela, is secure. "Guy is probably the most highly-motivated person at the club," said the talented Medard. "He is truly exceptional."
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