Wednesday 13 November 2019

Beattie: We're gunning for Leinster despite Top 14 woe

No 8 adamant French strugglers will be full strength and fully committed in bid to kick-start survival bid

Johnny Beattie: 'The intention is to win every game we play and that’s what we’re coming to Dublin to do'
Johnny Beattie: 'The intention is to win every game we play and that’s what we’re coming to Dublin to do'
David Kelly

David Kelly

FOR all intents and purposes, this weekend's European Champions Cup clash between Leinster and Castres should be a turkey shoot, a try-scoring chase to build up for the defining clash away to Wasps a week later.

Leinster have lost just one of their last 19 home games against French opposition in the tournament, while Castres have lost on all eight trips to Ireland in the Champions Cup; one could argue that of all the French sides with a history of regular participation at Europe's top table, Castres have been by a wide margin the poorest.

In all, they have played 33 games away from home but won just four; a pitiful return of just 12pc; few expect them to alter this statistical trend.

Castres won the French championship two seasons ago but are currently in relegation country; the backwater of second division rugby awaits them next season, especially since they have only five home matches available to them in the run-in as against most of their rivals who have six.

In French rugby, home is king and that is an attitude that prevails often in Europe, save the big hitters of the sport such as Toulon, Toulouse and Clermont Auvergne; for the rest, domestic matters take precedence and the impending arrival of Toulouse in a fortnight is all that occupies Castres.

Off the field, the club are also in turmoil. Their coaching staff, en masse, have been informed that their services will no longer be required after this summer, despite contracts that run until 2016 and a less than polite entreaty that they re-apply for their jobs.

Serge Milhas and David Darricarrère, as well as manager Matthias Rolland, will be replaced by the Oyonnax operatives, coach Christophe Urios and his assistants Frederic Charrier and Joe El Abd. There is turmoil in the 'Tarn'.

Amidst all the angst though, comes a fiery voice from Glasgow. Johnny Beattie escaped Montpellier's own imminent coaching crisis during the summer to pitch up in Castres, hardly thinking that such a dive in fortunes seemed possible.

But it has; a 50 points and counting trimming in Stade Francais last weekend would seem to confirm a listing, aimless outfit but Scottish international Beattie, who will marshal the side from the base of the scrum, issues a defiant rejoinder.

"We obviously prepare as every team does to win every game that we play but our form in the league has been erratic to say the very least," he says.

"We played really well at Clermont last month and should have won away but we conceded 50 points in Paris last week.

"With French sides it's hard to know what you'll get. We're going to put our strongest side out and we need to correct a lot of things that haven't been going well in order to get some consistency for our championship.

"The intention is to win every game we play and that's what we're coming to Dublin to do. We know the potential is there - we've shown it at times against Harlequins away and we did well for a lot of the game against Leinster at home. We know we can cause an upset. The RDS is formidable as I know from my Glasgow days but we have the talent to produce an upset.

"Leinster may look at our side and not know what they're going to get but we're determined to bring our best game, even if we're out of Europe.

"Taking points from Leinster may not the be all and end all for the coaches, who want to prepare for Toulouse, but I want to win."

The potential for turmoil during the season is omnipresent in rugby, particularly when the majority of player and coaching contracts are quaintly announced midway through campaigns. In France, where big budgets are operated by trigger-happy private owners, this process is magnified and, despite their success two seasons ago and again last season when they returned to the final before losing to Toulon, the club's patience has worn thin.


Key summer departures of several key personnel haven't helped, notably Beattie's predecessor at No 8, Antonie Claassen, prop Anton Peikrishvili and full-back Brice Dulin to Racing Metro, former Ulster back-row Pedrie Wannenburg to Oyonnax and the retirement of assured stalwart Romain Teulet.

"It's a strange one," concedes Beattie of the announcement that the coaches are changing. "It's a hell of a tough one for coaches knowing they may not have a job.

"For the players it doesn't change a thing. It's unsettling for others but we need to keep doing the same things, trying to win a game. That's what we're paid to do."

Beattie's optimism may be infectious but must be tempered by their opposition; regardless of those who have been less than enthused by Leinster's form this term, the Irish province remain a yardstick for so many across the continent.

"Leinster are still one of the best teams in Europe," says Beattie. "Anyone who doesn't think so is dreaming. They're a fantastic rugby team."

Irish Independent

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