French duo face must win Heineken Cup clashes

French rugby giants Biarritz and Perpignan have reached three Heineken Cup finals between them but this weekend they both need to win their respective final pool matches to be assured of reaching the last eight.

Two of their fellow Top 14 sides, four-time European champions Toulouse and debutants Toulon have already secured their places, along with two other previous champions Leinster and Northampton leaving four places up for grabs on the final weekend.

Two-time losing finalists Biarritz did themselves no favours last weekend losing 9-6 to 1999 champions Ulster, with both sides going into Saturday’s matches tied on 17 points.

Ulster – who have not made the quarter-finals since the year they won it – are away at Italian side Aironi, who pulled off the upset of the pool when they defeated Biarritz.

Biarritz, though, have a really tough clash as they host English side Bath, who themselves still entertain ideas of reaching the quarter-finals by topping the group, but, they would have to beat their hosts with a bonus point ta boot and hope Aironi defeat Ulster.

Victories for both Biarritz and Ulster would see both go through with one of them taking one of the two best runners-up spots.

Biarritz hooker Benoit August was livid at the display against Ulster and realises that leaving so much to chance against a decent side like Bath could have serious consequences.

“We have our destiny in our own hands, and if atall possible get a bonus point, though, it will be difficult to score four tries against Bath.”

Bath – who lost 12-11 at home to Biarritz in their earlier clash – had both and good news going into the match as England captain Lewis Moody was ruled out for up to six weeks because of a knee ligament injury suffered in last Saturday’s win over Aironi.

However, their England fly-half Ollie Barkley snubbed offers from France, notably Clermont, and committed himself to the club for another two years and will be looking to give them an immediate boost by kicking them to victory over Biarritz.

Whether the Perpignan players get a boost out of their coach Jacques Brunel announcing he was upping sticks for Italy at the end of the season and wanting to give him a great farewell will soon be evident at home to Llanelli.

Brunel, who was assistant French coach from 2001-2007 which saw them reach two World Cup semi-finals losing both times to England, said that he had no intention of leaving on a flat note.

“Thus far this part of the story has been a beautiful one and I want it to finish well,” said Brunel, who guided Perpignan to the 2009 Top 14 titles before losing to Clermont in last year’s final.

“I want it to end on a high in accordance with the level of the players here. Another part of the adventure takes place with the Heineken Cup match on Sunday.”

Scarlets too still have hopes of reaching the last eight and victory in France would suffice at their hosts expense and salvage something for Welsh pride which has taken a battering with Ospreys, Dragons and Cardiff Blues all failing to reach the quarter-finals.

The winners of that match should join Leicester in the last eight, as the two-time winners should run out easy winners over visitors Treviso and that pool could well provide the other best runner-up.

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