James out to achieve his goals this time
It is fair to say Ireland has not been the happiest of hunting grounds for Brock James and his Clermont Auvergne team-mates.
The French side have lost away to an Irish province in each of the past five seasons, including twice against Saturday’s Heineken Cup opponents Leinster. This time two years ago they were thrashed 24-8 in Dublin, but James will always be remembered for their quarter-final defeat at the RDS six months previously.
Clermont’s Australian outhalf left 23 points behind him that April evening, which infamously included two late drop goal attempts that would have eliminated the home team.
Going into Saturday’s rematch at the Aviva Stadium with a five-point lead in Pool 5, James hopes Clermont have grown since that low point in his career.
“We’ve had quite a few games against Leinster now. I think when you’re playing against the best team in Europe as often as we have been there’s only one thing you can do and that’s to learn and get better.”
The 31-year-old made an impressive recovery from his nightmare at the RDS, firing over a drop from his own half in extra-time of a semi-final as Clermont won the French championship for the first time two years ago.
Last month Toulon were the victims again as James kicked a last-minute penalty to give Vern Cotter’s side their 50th win in a row at home.
They made it 51 by ending Leinster’s 17-match unbeaten run in Europe last Sunday but the former Sevens player knows they will be facing a desperate, hungry and wounded animal this weekend.
In December 2010, Clermont were blown away by a vicious opening salvo when Leinster won 24-8 at the Aviva Stadium.
“I think it was probably just the mental aspect,” he says of Clermont’s failure to cope that day. “We thought we were well prepared for the match and then I guess we just didn’t turn up with the intensity we needed to play against such a talented team as Leinster.
“The lessons have to have been learned and I’m hoping we won’t be so naive this time when we come back for the return leg.”
James says Sunday’s game in France was extremely intense and he does not expect this weekend to be any different. And just like last week, he expects former Clermont backs coach Joe Schmidt will have his Leinster side targeting the space either side of him.
“Yeah, I kind of get that feeling every game, though,” he says. “Schmidty knows me pretty well and he knows my weaknesses and my strengths. So I’m sure he tries to exploit some of those weaknesses.”
As James rightly points out though, Clermont are much-changed since their last visit to Ireland. Benjamin Kayser, Damien Chouly, Wesley Fofana, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Lee Byrne have all been added, while Nathan Hines has switched from Leinster to Clermont.
If Clermont find themselves chasing the game on tomorrow James will not shirk from his responsibility: “I think you need to be able to have the skill to be able to kick the drop goals when you need to. As we’ve seen, sometimes they come off, sometimes they don’t.”