Jackman on alert as refreshed Brive travel with intent
At some stage this week, Bernard Jackman might expect to receive a poke on Facebook -- a term, you reckon, that would have had a slightly different meaning as he grew up in his native Tullow -- from his old Connacht buddies Damien Browne and Christian Short.
With the click of a button, the hooker will hope to decipher whether a Brive outfit, revitalised domestically, will seek to pack some of that optimism in their overnight bags ahead of their RDS date.
That the French are the least enthusiastic of rugby's tourists seems such a ham-fisted simplification but even Leinster's supporters -- merci Agen, Bourgoin, Castres -- are armed with enough recent evidence to suggest that the French declare 'non' once it becomes evident they ain't making a splash in the Heineken Cup pool.
And while for years the Irish held great store in loading up on the pre-packed black pudding, Tayto and Lyons Tea, even if merely skipping to Holyhead for a day's shopping on the ferry, nothing beats French club players for their propensity to adopt a sulking Gallic shrug at the first glimpse of a flight attendant.
Although there is an honesty about the effort of Irish sides at home and abroad in European combat, the French seize upon the most convenient reasons to dampen their ardour for the challenge, be it the weather, the changing rooms or ... the bananas.
"When Perpignan played Munster in Thomond I was talking to Nathan Hines," recalls Jackman, "and I asked him whether they were up for it. He said he had just actually got a phone call and they were giving out about the bananas over here. So that's how much they hate coming to Ireland or England. If they're giving out about bananas you know they don't like travelling."
The experienced Jackman swiftly adds a caveat as Perpignan almost snatched a surprise win that December night thanks to Munster's sloppiness. "They ended up playing all right in that match but generally they don't appear to like coming here," he acknowledges.
When Leinster travelled to Brive in October, they expected and received a raucous reception; a sepia-tinted big screen relayed their Christophe Lamaison-inspired 1997 Heineken Cup success. Yet once the shrill opening whistle at the Stade Amedee-Domenech sounded, the home side collapsed like a poorly-prepared souffle.
A confused Leinster contemplated whether the facile 36-13 win represented a lost opportunity to snaffle a bonus point. Subsequent events -- Brive have a grand total of 'nul points' in this campaign -- heightened that anxiety.
Yet somehow there is concern that this week's return clash may be even trickier. That is because Brive have overhauled their coaching staff and, it seems, their performances since October.
Separate coups d'etat against honorary president Patrick Sebastien and head coach Laurent Seigne, purportedly spearheaded by an English cabal led by hooker Steve Thompson, led to the promotion of assistant coach Ugo Mola, assisted by Christophe Laussucq and former 'Espoirs' coach Didier Casadei; the latter's fledglings were French champions last season.
After a spending spree on England's Riki Flutey, Jamie Noon, Shaun Perry, and Pat Barnard by English chief executive (can you sense a theme?) Simon Gillham, les Correziens were 11th in the Top 14, two points from the relegation zone, when Seigne was guillotined.
Since then, Brive have pushed to within a fingertip of the play-offs and have dismissed French champions Perpignan and Toulouse en route. Truly, they are a team reborn, with Flutey's belated return to full fitness buttressing a strong centre where before, as Leinster discovered in October, lay a gaping hole.
"We have been studying them closely for the last number of weeks," admits Jackman. "The scouting we would have made on them for the away game was different -- then they were very up and down and there was no very clear pattern to them but looking at them the last few games has been different.
"Even when they went to Clermont and got well beaten they turned up physically and went with a game plan that set a stall defensively; OK at the end they came unstuck and got a thumping but for the first 25 minutes they showed up. When we went over to play them, you know, I played with Damian Browne and Christian Short in Connacht and you sensed there wasn't a great feeling, a great buzz, in their squad."
All that changed apres la revolution. "They've got a much more engaging philosophy now," confirms Michael Cheika. "They are much more forward-orientated, a lot of mauling, a lot of aggression and very hard on the ground.
"The two new coaches down there have obviously put their own stamp on it because they are much more competitive in the combat area. That's something we are very mindful of."
After a surfeit of DVD research, Jackman agrees. "They use the maul to launch Thompson off the back, him and Shaun Perry have a good understanding and they have started to threaten down the blind side.
"Flutey wasn't playing the last time, (Fijian) Viliame Waqaseduadua on the wing is dangerous and Noon is a good player. They definitely have the potential to play on Saturday and with so many foreigners in the squad means they will probably play rather than come over here and sulk.
"So it's up to us to really put a high pace on the game and make Brive question why they are over here."
Despite all this, tomorrow's team announcement could very well signal the arrival of a disgruntled Brive second-string this Saturday. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose, as the fellah might say.
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