Tigers roar Euro defiance
January 7, 2000
Leicester boss Dean Richards refuses to accept that his Premiership champions face a make-or-break Heineken Cup mission in Paris tomorrow.
The Tigers' abysmal European away form this season they have already lost against Leinster and Glasgow suggests more Pool One misery at the hands of Stade Francais.
But Leicester's group is the one qualifying section that sees all four teams tied on points, given their tendency to beat each other.
"If we can win in Paris then that should put us in pole position in the pool," said Richards. "If we lose, then we won't be out of it either," he added, aware that everything could hinge on next week's action when Leicester play host to Leinster and Stade Francais visit Glasgow.
For the French club, who recently ushered in Georges Coste as coaching replacement for new national team supremo Bernard Laporte, revenge tops tomorrow's agenda.
They lost 30-25 at Leicester in November but played all the rugby only to fall foul of some baffling decisions made by whistle-happy Welsh referee Clayton Thomas.
"This is a game that neither side can afford to lose,'' said Stade's French World Cup wing Christophe Dominici.
"Leicester are a very good side and despite some questionable refereeing in our away match they deserved to win. Our objective is a quarter-final place, though, and now we must win."
Like Leicester, Saracens are currently a top-four team in the highly competitive Allied Dunbar Premiership, but their European prospects remain similarly uncertain.
Defeat away to unbeaten Pool Four leaders Munster tomorrow would probably dent Saracens' quarter-final hopes beyond repair, while confirming the Irish provincial champions' last-eight place.
Munster, who have already won at Saracens and Colomiers, will be roared on by a capacity 14,000 crowd as they look to continue their irresistible Heineken Cup progress despite coach Declan Kidney's words of caution.
"There is no point whatsoever in being top of the pool at this stage unless you maintain that form until the end," he said.
"Yes, I am delighted that we are on top of the pool, but if we lose both remaining matches against Saracens and Pontypridd, and Saracens win both their games, then we will not head the group it's as simple as that."
Bath's European predicament appears irretrievable, even though they must surely end a depressing run of results against Recreation Ground visitors and Pool Two whipping boys Padova tomorrow.
The 1998 Heineken Cup winners wind up their qualifying programme with a punishing three games in eight days. After Padova come Swansea and tournament favourites Toulouse and Bath know they must win the lot.
"It has been a difficult month for us," said Bath coach Andy Robinson, who has seen his injury-hit team suffer five successive losses in three different competitions, and go the best part of six hours without scoring a try.
Injuries have again affected selection this weekend, sidelining England internationals Mike Catt (shoulder) and Ben Clarke (hamstring), but at least Phil de Glanville is back in the match day squad having recovered from a fractured cheekbone.
The Pool Five shake-up looks a straight fight between Cardiff and Montferrand
Llanelli will make Welsh rugby history if they beat Bourgoin tomorrow in Pool Three.
No Welsh club has ever won a Heineken Cup tie on French soil, but the Scarlets are quietly confident despite coach Gareth Jenkins' squad being hit by the flu bug this week.
If Llanelli lose, and Wasps beat already eliminated Heineken Cup holders Ulster at Loftus Road on Sunday, then the Londoners will win the section one week early.
The second-tier European Shield is also approaching crunch time, with quarter-final places guaranteed for Newcastle, bbw Vale, Castres and Agen if they preserve 100% records this weekend.
Newcastle, whose Shield success belies oor Premiership form, visit Aurillac, Vale host Toulon, Castres are at home o Newport and Agen go to London Irish, where Dick Best's improving Exiles can till upset the apple cart by qualifying from Pool Seven at the French club's xpense.
"Agen beat us fair and square at their lace earlier in the season they are one of the best sides I've seen for a long time," said Best.
"But this is a huge game for us. We know that we need to win and it would be a travesty if we didn't get a massive crowd at The Stoop for this one."