Of the French heavyweights slugging it out for Europe's blue riband, Castres, who play Wasps at Adams Park in Pool One today, are the least fancied. Not only did they finish a modest seventh in last season's French championship - played 26, won 13, lost 13 - but their coach, Laurent Seigne, seems to be echoing Dirty Harry in his belief that a man's gotta know his limitations.
"We are in the process of rebuilding the side," Seigne said, "and our aim is to reach the quarter-finals." It looks like you can bet your bottom dollar that Castres will not be appearing in the final of the Heineken Cup at Twickenham in May. In fact they will do well to survive their pool, which is not the deepest in the tournament.
Even so Seigne, who coached Brive to the cup in 1997, when they put on a bravura performance in beating Leicester in the final in Cardiff, is not happy with the group, which is completed by Perpignan and Benetton Treviso. "I'd have preferred a team from another country rather than Perpignan, who we will play four times this season," he said.
The Wasps hooker Raphael Ibañez, who captained France in the World Cup final in 1999, saw Seigne's comment as a sign of weakness. "It doesn't worry me at all that we are playing two French clubs," Ibañez said. "I would never say that I wish we were playing someone else. The important point is you have to be effective from the start."
Last season Wasps, champions in 2004, failed to reach the knockout stage. "We found out that if you are not properly prepared there are no second chances," Ibañez said. "You have to make every match count and keep playing to the final whistle. The introduction of the bonus point was one of the best things that happened to the competition. The incentive to score tries makes for more spectacular rugby."
Ibañez added: "I know from personal experience how tough Castres are at home." The implication being that on the road they are nowhere near as formidable, a theme taken up by the Wasps captain, Lawrence Dallaglio. "Anyone can play well at home but the acid test for us is to go to France and win."
Dallaglio has warm memories of Wasps doing just that in the 2003-04 season when Perpignan were in their pool. After winning the home leg Wasps went away and did a thoroughly professional job in a 34-6 victory.
"It was a bit on the lively side," Dallaglio said, his euphemism for a match that produced 16 citings, most of them against Perpignan. Next Saturday Wasps return to the Stade Aimé Giral for another instalment of Anglo-French ferocity.
Dallaglio is at the beginning of his latest comeback, his foot plate-free from the injury that saw him leaving the Lions tour to New Zealand on a stretcher last year. Indeed, the former England captain had such a wretched time of it he was thinking of retiring. Wasps, and England, may yet be grateful he did not.
Wasps are going well in the Premiership, Phil Vickery, another long-term casualty, is back in the front row and Dallaglio believes the squad, and he emphasises squad, will win at least one trophy this season. He says the club have great strength in depth, particularly up front, where Wasps could field virtually two different packs in successive weeks that would, in his opinion, have a similar impact.
The back-row combinations look extremely tasty, so much so that Dallaglio ventured that if Andy Farrell took one look he would be wise to forget about playing No 6.Reuse content