Tigers desperate for more euro glory
March 26, 2007
Leicester Tigers know exactly what it takes to be crowned the kings of European club rugby - and they are desperate to return to the glory days of their back-to-back Heineken Cup triumphs in 2001 and 2002.
But they face a huge challenge from Stade Francais Paris in their quarter-final at Welford Road on Sunday, the Parisians one of the few teams to have walked off Heineken Cup winners at the Tigers lair.
That was three years ago and, although that helps Stade Francais Paris lead their seven head-to-head meetings 4-3, Leicester won the one that mattered most when they lifted the Heineken Cup for the first time after a 34-30 thriller against the Paris aristocrats at Parc des Princes.
"As double winners Leicester obviously have a good record in the Heineken Cup but in the last few years the club has not been as successful as everyone would have liked and we are desperate to win trophies," said Irish international lock Leo Cullen.
"The EDF Energy Cup semi-final win over Sale Sharks last Saturday means we are in contention for honours on three fronts but the Heineken Cup is the big one - it is the one everyone really wants to win.
"Stade are a complete team, certainly one of the most powerful in European rugby and, just like us, the Heineken Cup is the one they are also trying to conquer, although they have not had the best of luck in the tournament in recent seasons.
"Nevertheless they have got formidable strength in depth that, regardless of which 15 they put out, they will always field a powerful side.
"Obviously they have lost key players through injury but I honestly don't think that will affect them that much. They have got such tough competition for all the places in the team that it means they can manage this sort of situation.
"They have had a lot of involvement with the French team in recent times so many of their players are at ease at international level and in Fabien Galthie they have a fine coach in charge of a hugely talented group of players.
"On their day they are an extremely dangerous side and, as they have won here in the past - 26-13 in the 2003 / 2004 tournament - they will have nothing to fear about playing at Welford Road.
"We had two extremely tight matches against them last season in the Pool stages of the Heineken Cup with both games going to the home side and us scrapping a 29-22 win at Welford Road."
Cullen, who made 31 Heineken Cup appearances for Leinster before moving to Leicester, where four of his nine tournament games for the Tigers were in this season's Pool stages, accepts Leicester simply have to make home advantage count this time.
"It is good to have our international players back, they bring that extra buzz around the place, and we are happy enough to be challenging for three titles," he said.
"However, we also know how quickly things can change. We were in a similar situation last season but in the space of just a couple of weeks it all went wrong, including going out of the Heineken Cup when we were beaten at home by Bath.
"We have put ourselves in a position for a home Heineken Cup semi-final - which can make all the difference - but we must step up a level and make the most of that position."
HEINEKEN CUP 2007 QUARTER-FINALS
FRIDAY 30 MARCH
SATURDAY 31 MARCH
SUNDAY 1 APRIL
Leicester Tigers v Stade Francais Paris 15.30 Welford Road, Leicester
HEINEKEN CUP 2007 SEMI-FINALS
Biarritz Olympique OR Northampton Saints v London Wasps OR Leinster