Legendary French full-back, Serge Blanco believes French clubs have belatedly come to terms with the special demands of the Heineken Cup.
Serge Blanco believes French clubs have belatedly come to terms with the special demands of the Heineken Cup – and a clean sweep of six out of six for Les Bleus on the opening weekend of the eighth tournament backs up Blanco’s belief to the hilt.
“It seems the French clubs are looking at the Heineken Cup in a different light this year,” said the former French full back, now the President of the Ligue Nationale de Rugby.
“It is the first time ever that all French clubs have won on the first weekend of the Heineken Cup but they must be ambitious and they must want to compete in the Heineken Cup with a view to winning it. Maybe part of the reason is that we are into the second season of a professional, elite French championship in the Top 16, matches are of a higher standard and clubs have more experience. We also held a meeting ahead of the European competition urging clubs to go all out in the Heineken Cup and they seem to be doing that.”,p>”The best result by far last weekend for the French teams was Bourgoin’s at Sale, because Sale Sharks are second in the English Premiership at the moment and they are a very strong team.”
“But what is encouraging from the matches I saw – I watched Cardiff against Biarritz and have since seen Toulouse playing London Irish on the video – is the fact that the French clubs are making less mistakes, they are more patient and they are playing to win. Toulouse and Biarritz, the latter away from home, were conscious of their task. They put their game-plan into action and they took their opportunities to score.”
“I think it could be the new face of French rugby. The fact that French clubs are now going away from home looking for precious points is vital. It’s something they have been less inclined to do in the past. They have put structures in place which mean they are able to do this. Hopefully the good results will keep coming next week. Toulouse have a tough task away to Newport – that will be a very difficult test. Biarritz host Northampton, who are obviously vastly experienced in Europe, but I believe Biarritz have the means to beating them at home.”
“I watched Neath on Friday night and they are an impressive team with a very good outside half but, as long as Biziers haven’t suffered any more blows to their already depleted squad, they have the opportunity to continue on a winning run.”
“It will be very difficult for Bourgoin against Llanelli but maybe their win at Sale will have given them the mental edge they need to come out on top.
Perpignan have to go to Munster and, unfortunately for them, they have a number of injuries in their ranks. But Perpignan never let up away from home either so you never know. Montferrand, too, are away from home but the three French teams I think have the greatest chance of going a long way in this competition are Toulouse, Biarritz and Montferrand – and it is vital to win away from home.”
“While it is early days, we can dare to hope to have some French teams in the semi-finals this year – and why not the final?”