Biarritz bank on Basque backing

Revenge is the last thing Biarritz Olympique will have on their minds when the 2006 finalists meet Munster at Estadio Anoeta on Sunday in a repeat clash of the Heineken Cup final four years ago.

Munster won that Millennium Stadium showpiece 23-19 – just over a year after Biarritz had beaten the Irish province 19-10 at the French club’s home away from home in San Sebastian.

“There is no way we see the semi-final as a revenge game from the 2006 final,” said Biarritz captain and lock Jerome Thion. “Circumstances are different, players have changed and both teams have evolved since then.

“We will approach the game as we would do for any high ranking competition semi-final and our frame of mind is very much set on beating our opponents whoever they may be.

“But we know it is going to be difficult to achieve and that we will have to be clinical in all that we do to be able to reach that final step.

“It’s always good to play at Estadio Anoeta because we know most of the crowd will be behind us and even though we know that the Munster fans will travel down to the Basque country in their thousands, we like having our fixtures there as we always get a hearty welcome and the party atmosphere is tremendous.

It’s always an exceptional moment for us and we are lucky to play in that venue.

“And we are getting closer to the goals we set ourselves at the start of the season. To start with, we got out of our group which is progress in itself compared to previous seasons and we went a step further by winning the quarters.

“First of all, we were really happy to qualify for the quarters and then we benefited from a favourable draw that allowed us to play at Estadio Anoeta. We knew that if we won that game against the Ospreys we would play again in San Sebastian so we were focused on that objective.

“It is true that we didn’t have a good season in the Top 14 and we have had a lot of injuries but each time we managed to regain our strengths and some cohesion within our group to play our Heineken Cup games. So far, we’ve reached the semi-finals against Munster and we are pretty pleased with ourselves for doing that.

“When we lost our 25th and penultimate round of the Top 14 against Racing-Métro 92 it was our last chance gone of reaching sixth place in the league.

“It also means that we have to hope that a French club is crowned European champion next month if we want to compete in this tournament next season and it is clear that we will now throw everything we have at the Heineken Cup semi-final.

“However, Munster play in the Magners League – which is not as intense as the French league – and, just like Leinster, they give their all for European rugby so they are both focused on that and they also have fewer games than us during a season.

“Their main goal is to win the Heineken Cup and our encounters are always huge battles involving a very intense and physical contest. They are used to these major showpiece occasions and have been crowned European champions twice, so we are certainly up against one of the top European squads.

“But there is absolutely no feeling of an inferiority complex on our part and we have beaten them in the past, even though it was five years ago.

“So now we have the chance to meet them again and we know we can do as well as them in our quest for the Heineken Cup – the game promises to be a massive clash.”

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