Biarritz duo Lund and Balshaw show there is life after England
The Heineken Cup is now the stuff of obsession for Biarritz, just as it became the be-all and end-all for Munster after two falls at the final hurdle. "We have to dust ourselves down and go again," said Magnus Lund, the flanker so completely forgotten by England that he can barely remember the last time they showed an interest in him. "We still want this, and we want it badly. We're a small team as far as our supporter base is concerned, but we're a big team in heart and spirit. We have unfinished business here."
Lund was exhausted as he chewed the fat an hour or so after close of play, and well he might have been. In the thick of it from the very start and still setting about anyone in Toulouse colours at the last knockings, the former Sale back-rower's tackle count was in the stratosphere, just as it had been when he last played for his country, against the Springboks in the thin air of Pretoria almost three years ago. He had no reward then, either: England lost by 50 points in a game they knew they could not win. Saturday's defeat was not of the same magnitude, but as there was no inferiority complex about Biarritz and they came within a single score of glory, the frustration was doubly intense.
"At half-time we thought we were right in the game, but Toulouse turned the screw after that and the absence of decent possession from the scrums really told,"Lund admitted. "Even when they went to 14" – the Toulouse lock Patricio Albacete was sent to the cooler for tackling Benoît August while the Biarritz hooker was playing football rather than rugby – "it seemed like they were a man up on us rather than a man down. It's strange, because we've been strong in the second halves of matches this season. It seems we lacked confidence."
They also lacked match sharpness. Biarritz had not played since the end of the Top 14 regular season in the last week of April, while Toulouse, who qualified for the knockout phase of the tournament, were able to use their time more productively, taking on Castres and Perpignan in full-blooded contests. "That was a factor," Lund acknowledged. "All we had was a run-out against our second team."
Pressed on his future England chances, which do not appear great, given that he failed to make either the 44-man senior squad bound for the Antipodes or the 26-man party heading to the United States on Churchill Cup duty, he was not overly concerned. "Everyone wants to play for their country, of course, but I won't be losing any sleep over it," he said.
His fellow Englishman, the full-back Iain Balshaw, could be heard singing from a similar hymn sheet. "I'd never say no to England, but it's simply not something that's in the forefront of my mind," he remarked. Which rather begs a question. How many international-class players – and there is little doubt that on Saturday's evidence, neither Lund nor Balshaw would look out of place in Martin Johnson's latest gathering of the talents – will find solace for rejection in the cash-rich land of the Top 14?
It is nothing new, the notion of an England player crossing the Channel for a little harmless fun in and around the vineyards. Maurice Colclough and Rob Andrew did it years ago; Richard Pool-Jones, who never featured on the England radar while playing in England, was capped out of Stade Français. But they were the exceptions to the rule, not part of a migration. The lure of the euro, even a euro in freefall, is increasingly irresistible to those wanting to squeeze every last drop from the rugby experience.
Balshaw, in particular, seemed at one with the world, even in the throes of disappointment. "Look, the best side won – there's no hiding from it," he said. "When we scored that late try there was a glimmer for us, but Toulouse were better than us. We'd talked about playing for 80 minutes, but we didn't do it. We've been our own worst enemies all season, and we have to accept that fact.
"What will I do now? Go back to England and visit my mum for a while, then spend some time in Biarritz. I won't be going away on holiday. When you live where I live, you don't really need holidays." And to think he could be with England, getting kicked around Napier by the New Zealand Maori.
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