Biarritz braced for Sarries showdown
November 18, 2011
Iain Balshaw bagged both of Biarritz's tries in their defeat in Wales © Getty Images
Biarritz know that nothing less than victory will suffice when they face in-form Saracens in a potentially explosive Heineken Cup Pool 5 clash at the Parc des Sports Aguilera on Saturday afternoon.
Having been beaten by the Ospreys in Swansea on the opening weekend, the hosts know that they can ill-afford a slip-up on home soil against much-fancied Sarries. Encouragingly for Biarritz, there were a number of positives to be taken out of their defeat at the Liberty Stadium, most notably the spirit they showed in salvaging a losing bonus point from a game which had threatened to get away from them.
The Basques, though, will need to show even more grit and determination against a Sarries side which has won seven of its eight Aviva Premiership games this season and ruthlessly ripped Treviso asunder at Vicarage Road in their opening European assignment last weekend. The English champions appear to be going from strength to strength under Mark McCall and will be eying a victory which would make the rest of Europe sit up and take notice, while at the same time setting them up beautifully for their December double-header with the Ospreys.
Biarritz - Player to Watch: Iain Balshaw was in spectacular form last week scoring twice for Biarritz and bar a dodgy referee call, he could have walked away with the match ball. One of the forgotten men of English rugby is going about his business with ruthless efficiency so expect him to shine on Saturday.
Biarritz - Team News: Biarritz's pack stays the same but there are some changes in the backs. Marcelo Bosch switches to fly-half with Luix Roussarie taking the scrum-half reins with Dimitri Yachvili forced to sit out the clash due to injury. Benoît Baby comes into the centres with Julien Peyrelongue forced to settle for a spot on the bench.
Saracens - Player to Watch: James Short has had a quieter season in 2011-12 than in 2010-11 but what better stage to breathe fire into a campaign than the Heineken Cup. The young winger is faced with two experienced speedsters so expect a big performance from the youngster.
Saracens - Team News: Saracens make three changes from the side which overcame Treviso last weekend. Schalk Brits is suspended so up steps John Smit to fill in the void with Ben Spencer starting at scrum-half instead of Neil de Kock. Jacques Burger gets the nod at openside ahead of Andy Saull.
Key Battle: Imanol Harinordoquy is up against Jacques Burger at openside in what will be one of the battles of the weekend. Both flankers had superb World Cups so expect fireworks in the openside department.
Trivia: Saracens, despite their impressive pedigree, are only in their fifth season of Heineken Cup rugby
Stats: Biarritz have only lost four of their past 38 Heineken Cup games at the Parc des Sports Aguilera
"He complained of pain at half-time and during the second half - every time he kicked he felt like he was punched in the leg."
"We have no wish to be a catalyst for conflict between the City of Cape Town and the Western Province Rugby Union"
Prediction: Biarritz have struggled so far this season but this will not be the match where they re-find their form. Saracens by a narrow margin.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
In the wake of another perfect November series, Monday Maul talks to NZRU CEO Steve Tew about the constant demand for perfection
The latest Week in Pictures takes in all the action from the weekend when rugby united behind Samoa
The Wallabies showed flair in Dublin, but they still have a way to go if they are to do more than make up the numbers at the World Cup, writes Greg Growden
England broke their losing streak, but this was not them clawing their way back among the best, writes Tom Hamilton