Catalans 'scraping bottom of barrel', claims Freshwater
NEW ZEALAND born, an English international, a Perpignan cult hero. Perry Freshwater liked the Catalan city he calls home so much, he is now employed by the club to ensure all new English-speaking recruits settle as well as he did.
The former prop is the Top 14 side's manager, a catch-all position that varies from day to day.
This week, the job is part of an all-hands-on-deck attempt to get as many players fit as possible to take to the Thomond Park field on Sunday.
"We lost a few guys to internationals, we've had two guys suspended and we played a pretty rough game against Clermont (last weekend) and lost at home which wasn't great and we picked up a few key injuries as well," he said.
"Literally, and I'm not saying this because you're an Irish reporter, but on Tuesday in training we were scraping the bottom of the barrel to get 10 blokes on the field.
"We're waiting to see who is fit on Thursday, with a few dead legs, guys coming back from injury.
"We're hoping to put out a competitive side, but we've some bloody big games coming up (against Castres and Stade Francais in the Top 14) and the boys are at a stage when it has just got cold, there are injuries here and there and we're at a very difficult period at the moment."
Freshwater won the Heineken Cup twice with Leicester Tigers before moving to France and had a decade's experience operating at the top level of Europe before retiring after Perpignan's run to the semi-finals in 2011. He has faced Munster before and reckons that the Pro12 sides have an advantage when taking on Top 14 and Premiership teams.
"This is a big European game and Munster in big European games are very, very good," he said. "What we're seeing is, when we play Celtic League teams they can afford to rest their big guns for big games (beforehand).
"We absolutely cannot afford to do that. We have set out our goals as qualifying for the top six of the Top 14 and we want to be competitive in Europe, so we can't rest at any time.
"If we don't do well in the Top 14, we get relegated. As soon as you take relegation away, it takes incredible pressure off you."
Given his job is helping to integrate English-speaking stars into life in France, Freshwater is well aware of the sums being offered to top players and agrees that Johnny Sexton's move to Racing Metro has opened the Irish market to French clubs.
"The figures that have been thrown around for Johnny Sexton, I think you'd be silly not to come over for that," he said.
"But you'll find it is not always about cash. Some people have thrived, some haven't. It is what you make of it. I guess the higher profile you come to France with, the more expectation you have on you. I was lucky no one knew who I was and they still don't, so there was not much pressure on me.
"But, as far as poaching high-calibre Irish players, French clubs are always in the market for players and if you're a good player you're always going to be targeted."
Neither Munster or Perpignan are as strong as they were when they met in the 2009/10 competition, but Freshwater believes his club are coming out the other side of a slump.
"We won the Top 14 title in 2009 and made the final the next year, and the year after that we made the semi-finals of Europe, but we ended up 12th in the Top 14 and it was downhill from there," he concluded.
"The club then recruited (director general) Sylvain Deroeux and he, in my opinion, saved the club really.
"He put real structure in place;, we've had a change of coach and he's proven to be very good in the recruitment that he's made.
"Things have been okay, but it is a long season and we don't quite have the squad that the top boys do, and when you're competing at the top it is difficult."