Camille Chat’s face creases in a broad smile when he’s asked whether he’s surprised that his former clubmate at Racing 92, Leinster, and Ireland outhalf Johnny Sexton is still playing rugby. The 26-year-old French international hooker laughs: “Yes, he’s a dinosaur.
“Ah, I’m not really surprised because I know he’s a big leader and the chief orchestrator. We need to focus on him and his performance, because if we let him go with the plan that he wants to carry out it will be difficult to beat them [Leinster]. But there are plenty of other [good Leinster] players around.”
Racing 92 welcome Leinster to the Stade Océane in Le Havre – their home ground in Paris is not available due to a music concert – on Saturday (1pm, Irish time) on the opening weekend of the Heineken Champions Cup, for a tussle that reunites the 2018 finalists, a game that Leinster edged narrowly.
It is not just the Sexton link that has nuzzled its way into the pre-match chatter as Leinster’s senior coach Stuart Lancaster will swap Dublin for Paris next summer when he takes over at Racing. Chat said: “We look forward to welcoming him, but for now it’s important to finish this chapter as well as we can with Laurent Travers and the staff and players we have now.
“We want to show Leinster and Stuart Lancaster that we’re a good side, that he made the right decision to come to France and hopefully lift trophies.”
That 2018 final, when Leinster edged home 15-12 in Bilbao’s San Mamés Stadium, while not forgotten, has less relevance to Saturday’s match. The Parisian club has moved on in many respects on and off the pitch and in the style of rugby that they play.
Chat explained: “It’s a difficult memory because of the defeat, but it’s a mixed feeling. It was extraordinary to play in a match like that, a final that I started in a big stadium in Spain, a new venue. It’s a mixed feeling [looking back].
“We play with speed and while our squad has changed a little bit, we still want to bring that physicality to the game, especially with the young fellas that we have. [There is] a focus on French players, it’s good, and hopefully fans around the world and the Irish fans will enjoy the way we play.”
Chat paid a warm tribute to former Ireland and Munster secondrow Donnacha Ryan who he said taught him a great deal in a technical way in terms of the lineout but also in attitude and application on behalf of the team during the Irishman’s time in Paris. “He [Ryan] was incredible. He always worked for other people.
“Like Johnny, he’s a dinosaur but he was an example to me. He enjoyed [playing with] his team and I loved working with him on the lineout. He gave 100 per cent every game, he always worked for the team.”
Le Havre is the oldest rugby club in France and has long standing ties with Racing, hence the decision to move the European game. Last week 15,000 tickets had been sold – the ground has a 25,000 capacity – and Chat anticipates another tight, tough encounter. “We are very excited, we know Leinster are a big name in European rugby.”
The hooker has mixed feelings about the presence for the first time of South African teams in the tournament. He said: “I’m a little mixed because I have a very European image of this competition. There is a whole story behind the European Cup, with the teams that won.
“Afterwards, it can open opportunities in the world of rugby. It’s a double-edged sword because playing matches when you’re flying eight hours; we’ll see how it goes. The more it goes, the more we are heading towards a Club World Cup. It’s like that, it’s rugby that evolves.
“It introduces us to the teams from the southern hemisphere, which is rather interesting because it shows how things are going abroad, it’s time to see what level they have.”
The priority though is to get past Leinster at the weekend.