Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Peter Bills: support from afar was vital

The pain has eased, but not the frustration. For Biarritz coach Patrice Lagisquet, the memory of the 2006 Heineken Cup final remains acute.

Lagisquet coached the Basque team that Munster beat in the final two years ago. But they did it amid controversial circumstances and Lagisquet for one insists they must never be repeated.

The Biarritz man warns ERC officials ahead of today's final in Cardiff: " Don't favour one team again by showing the crowd support from one team's home city".

Lagisquet is convinced the giant screen at the Millennium Stadium showing the live crowd scenes from Limerick had a major effect on the outcome of the 2006 final.

With Munster hanging on against a powerful Biarritz comeback, the screens showed thousands of fans in Limerick urging on their side. No such scenes were shown from Biarritz; it was a blatant bias that should never have been allowed, however inadvertent.

Lagisquet said: "At the time I didn't think it was that important but now I am certain it was a big factor. The Munster players were very, very tired in the last 15 minutes. Their crowd was not shouting anymore and we were stronger than them.

"But then the Munster players saw all their people, shouting and supporting them from home and the crowd in the stadium saw it, too. They started shouting again and it lifted the players.

"I would say to the authorities, if they do that they must do it for both sides. Otherwise, it is not fair."

Lagisquet admits Munster are a vastly improved outfit since that day. " Munster are good enough to win it again. They have the experience and now the speed behind the scrum. But still they are a very efficient side. They can change their strategy now. And that makes them much more dangerous."

Lagisquet is in no doubt that the two strongest teams have reached the final.

"They are the two teams that have the best players. In the last two years, Toulouse have worked well to improve their forwards. They are now again a top team with their forwards but they still play very well with their backs.

"Munster needed some fast backs, Toulouse needed big, powerful forwards. Both sides have found the right players for the team. And they are key players, very important players. Now, neither side plays in the same way as they did two years ago. Munster are able to play with their backs; they have two very good centres and a fast wing.

"Toulouse can keep the ball in the mauls more efficiently and still play with their wings. They have many options. And that is why both sides deserve to be in the final."

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