Sunday 18 March 2018

Toulouse star Jauzion aware of threat posed from creative mastermind D'Arcy

Peter Bills

Through French eyes, the verdict delivered with that classic Gallic shrug of the shoulders, he is simply indispensable to Leinster's cause.

"He is a world-class player, a fine player," says Yannick Jauzion, the master craftsman and creative mastermind of Stade Toulouse who bar Leinster's path to the Heineken Cup final this weekend. "His class we know, nobody can be surprised at what he does on the field. He touches a lot of the ball and he stabilizes the team's defence. He is a very talented player, one I have always admired."

So, that's Gordon D'Arcy assessed and sorted by the French international centre. But what of Brian O'Driscoll? Surely some mistake here, you might think. But no. Jauzion well knows O'Driscoll, but he pinpoints D'Arcy as just as crucial, if not more so, to the Leinster side.

Jauzion's is a view expressed in more than just French company. Many believe that O'Driscoll consistently plays his best rugby when D'Arcy is alongside. That is not to denigrate the skills and abilities of Ireland's captain, but good judges like Jauzion insist that Gordon D'Arcy plays an equally critical role, for Leinster and Ireland.

"For me, D'Arcy is definitely as important as O'Driscoll. They play so well together, they offer different challenges to opponents, but both are important," he said. "Of course, Brian is just as good now as he was. I cannot tell any difference in his speed. His play is just so good; he is such a good reader of the game. That doesn't go as you get older; to me he's just as good a player as ever before.

"He threatens a defence, you can never be completely sure about what he will do next. That is the way with the great players, there is always something they can show you, some part of their game with which they can surprise you. It is why you must concentrate the whole time when you play them."

But the player who drove Leinster to last season's Heineken Cup win with his charismatic performances, Australian Rocky Elsom, is no longer there at the heart of the team. Doesn't Jauzion believe Leinster to be significantly weakened without him?

"It is true, Rocky Elsom brought so much to Leinster last year and played a big part in their success. He was such a strong player and above all a leader. But the other players are very capable of carrying on without him. All teams lose important players, but there is a chance, an opportunity for new players to come in and play."

Four long winters have passed since Leinster broke Toulouse hearts in their own back yard, winning the 2005/'06 season quarter-final 41-35 at Le Stadium. Jauzion remembers it vividly, scotching suggestions that the memory could be an encumbrance on Saturday, yet not denying that it took Toulouse a long time to get over it.

"It was a very revealing game for us because it showed us our faults. There were some very bad mistakes by our team and we could not complain because Leinster were the best team. They were harder physically than us that day," he said.

"For me, Leinster are a better team than four years ago and we have got to respect them. They have strengthened their team among the forwards and are much better in this area. And they have dangerous backs who can win matches. It is a good mixture."

Les Toulousains tend to shrug their shoulders in negative fashion, whatever the circumstances. It is their way. But Jauzion genuinely believes their task this time in trying to win the Heineken Cup for the first time in five years, will be equally difficult, if not more so, than when they lost to Leinster in '06.

And given Toulouse's erratic form, the task looks tougher still. Even Jauzion concedes it has been a fluctuating ride.

"I have been like the team. I have had some highs and lows this season. In January I was very on form, but afterwards not so good.

"But I hope now in the final weeks of the season I can regain that form," he said.

Irish Independent

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