David Flatman: We must stuff Biarritz, then treat them to a dodgy pasty
From the Front Row: It's only October but our Heineken Cup opener at home to tasty French today is a must-win game
Sunday 10 October 2010
Can you have a must-win game in October? Well, we have, and it's today. And the good news is that the team we have to beat are currently trailing French Top 14 leaders Toulouse by just four points.
OK, so let's be frank. The club will not disappear if we come off second best but somehow this Heineken Cup clash at home to Biarritz feels like more than just a competition opener. Our start to the season has pitched and dived and, as is the way in sport at any level, it is the dives that stick so resolutely to the walls of the players' minds. This is an unfortunate phenomenon but one that can be tackled in just one way: by winning. Losing repeatedly does so much more than cost a team a few points in a table. It serves to perpetuate the plunge in morale, to exacerbate the sense of inadequacy and to feed the demons of defeat that lie hungry, waiting for a chance to feast on a man's fear.
Let us remember, though, that despite two terribly disappointing defeats to Northampton and Gloucester, we remain in the sacred top four of the Aviva Premiership. This is because we are a good side, we just need – at the risk of drifting into football-manager speak – to be good every time. Yes, I am stating the bleeding obvious but for that I do not apologise, for consistency is an asset increasing exponentially in value.
So today gives us what sport so often does, a chance to put things right. In Imanol Harinordoquy, Biarritz have one of the greatest all-round players in the game. I used to watch him and, as we all naturally do, decide from my armchair exactly what sort of person he was by observing his body language and general demeanour. I labelled him a moody, petulant drama queen, and I was bang wrong.
I recently spoke to Iain Balshaw, Harinordoquy's team-mate, and he put me straight: "The bloke is a complete legend. Intelligent, super-talented and rock hard with it." I removed my amateur psychology diploma from the wall and sat down to eat some humble pie.
My guess is that by about 10 past one this afternoon – kick-off being at 1pm – you will be able to tell who the likely winners are. The first few collisions will set the physical tone for the contest and the attacking intentions of both sides will be evident just as quickly. I suspect that, with Dimitri Yachvili calling the shots as ever, their game-plan will be created predominantly on the move, with the maestro playing what he sees. His decisions will be backed up by a bruising pack of forwards, including chain-smoking behemoth Jérême Thion, hellbent on achieving ascendancy from the start. The old unspoken rule of the French being woeful, uninterested travellers is now a memory.
The well-documented level of cash being thrown at the French clubs these days means it is not at all surprising that the respective investors are becoming ever more demanding. So, arriving on opposition turf and leaving one foot on the bus home won't cut it any more. They will come to win and it is our job, as representatives of not only our beloved club but, on this occasion, our nation, to let them know their weekend in leafy Bath might be an uncomfortable one.
Certainly, we want our visitors to feel welcome, but I'm afraid that will have to wait until after the game. Then we can treat them to a can of nicely warmed cider and a microwaved pasty in return for all the gorgeous seafood and wine we have always been offered across the Channel. Got to show the lads a good time, right?
Early days or not, it is time for a reaction. We have too good a squad and operate in too good an environment for losing to ever become acceptable. The words of journalists and pundits alike are certainly fuel, but the real kindling has to come from within and from the moment the famous shirt is pulled on. We don't question the opinions of onlookers, we seek to change them and the only way to do this is to perform, all the time. This afternoon we have a chance to banish the demons from whence they came, and to send home our visitors with some of their own.
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