Leinster cautious ahead of Biarritz clash in Amlin Cup semi-final
The French club are considered a cup team that are dangerous and hungry for success
Leo Cullen in action against Perpignan in the 2003 Heineken Cup semi-final – Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy are the two other survivors from that defeat
Leo Cullen went and mentioned it yesterday. Perpignan. It was the 2003 Heineken Cup semi-final in Lansdowne Road and all Leinster had to do was win. They had beaten Biarritz 18-13 in front of 46,000 people at HQ in the quarter-final and were gifted a home draw against Perpignan. That day 37,000 people arrived expecting a procession only to watch as Leinster were burnt 14-21.
“I remember we played them [Biarritz] in the quarter-final at Lansdowne Road and we’d a pretty good win against them. It was a tight game and it was definitely very hard to break them down. We went on to lose in the semi-final to Perpignan. One of the darker days in a Leinster shirt,” recalls Cullen before adding mischievously: “Some players are still there from 2003.”
He’s right about that. There are three players still there, Cullen, Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll all played 10 years ago. For Biarritz Dimitri Yachvilli lined out opposite Leinster scrumhalf Brian O’Meara.
Cullen can afford to smile. Leinster have since learned to draw from hurt and in recent years rarely failed to turn up. The Leinster trophy cabinet has come to tell its own story.
Schmidt knows that Biarritz will not arrive dolefully lamenting their 11th place in the French Championship table. They have nothing left to play for but the Amlin and see the RDS as their last chance for glory this season. Why did the Leinster captain have to go and mention Perpignan?
“Someone described Biarritz to me as a cup team. I think they are a cup team,” explains Schmidt. “They are the sort of team that during that long period of the league they’d a lot of players injured. [Dimitri] Yachvilli and [Imanol] Harinordoquy, they missed the whole front end of the season. So did Damien Traille,
“Those are the guys coming back in and they lift the guys around them. Unfortunately for us they are coming back wrong time for us. Even Yannick Bru getting back last week on to the field against Bordeaux will lift them. They’ve certainly put holes in our defence in past. I think they are an incredibly strong team.”
Biarritz have proven to be durable and tough to break down and although they do brash as well as any team, defensively they are organised and abrasive. The last game the powerful Clermont lost at home was against Biarritz. Schmidt knows because he was coaching with Clermont at the time.
Strong defensive system
“We probably created a few chances and hadn’t nailed them. You have to take your chances against Biarritz,” says Schmidt. “They have a very strong defensive system with very strong defenders in amongst it and they have a very strong spine . . . Harinordoquy, Yachvilli, Traille. Benoit Baby has got better and better.
“Marcel Bosch has spent a whole season out injured. He’s coming back. We know the wingers well, we’ve done a little study on them. They don’t need that much ball to build a score. They have got Yachvilli, who can kick goals consistently from long way out. Baby too. On top of that they have got incredibly quick finishers, Tomas, Bosch, Baby, Bru ... give them half a yard and you are not going to catch them up.”
In a sense it’s ordinary fare for Leinster and despite the mention, Perpignan’s semi-final shadow doesn’t cast so far anymore. Too much good since. Cullen knows it just as well as the other two players who were with him.