Lievremont respectful of Munster challenge

Biarritz captain Thomas Lievremont has hailed Munster among "the greatest European sides" going into Saturday's European Cup final showdown at the Millennium Stadium. [more]

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Biarritz captain Thomas Lievremont has hailed Munster among "the greatest European sides" going into Saturday’s European Cup final showdown at the Millennium Stadium.

The French champions are one win away from a first European title following deflating semi-final failures in 2004 and 2005.

Munster’s record is even more impressive and their tournament record shows two final appearances, three semi-final defeats and two quarter-final losses.

The Irish outfit, despite never landing European rugby’s showpiece domestic prize, have reached the knockout stages every year since 1998, and it is a pedigree not lost on French back-row star Lievremont.

"We clearly have to inspire ourselves from what Munster have achieved in this competition," he said.

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"They are one of the greatest European sides. Their strength is their forwards, and they also have great half-backs, but we should not feel scared by them. It is no bluff that we have reached the final.

"Our president Marcel Martin has been claiming for two years that Biarritz must play the finals in Europe and the French league. Last year, we won the Top 14 (French Championship) final, and we failed in the semi-finals in Europe. The Heineken Cup is our prime objective this season, and we’ve never been so close to getting it.

Biarritz are well on course to retain the French domestic crown this term, and while their progress through the European knockout stages featured just one try in knocking out English raiders Sale Sharks and Bath, they could still make it a hat-trick of cup final defeats for Munster.

"The team is well, physically and mentally, and we have had a good season in qualifying for the Top 14 semi-finals and Heineken Cup final," added Lievremont.

"We have progressed a lot in recent years, but it is also more and more difficult because teams look to raise their game against us everywhere we play now."

Prop Colin Noon, Biarritz’s Englishman-in-residence, is currently on loan to the French giants, and the cup-tied forward offers a fascinating insight into how Biarritz operate.

"I must admit, it took me a while to get used to training with Biarritz – the approach is so different," he said.

"Firstly, the warm-ups consist of a 10-minute jog, then some of the lads just start throwing the ball around. I have never encountered that kind of relaxed working environment before.

"Nine or 10 balls might be knocked on during a session, but you don’t get screamed at. If that happened in the UK, you would be on the ground doing push-ups.

"All of this has a great impact on team morale because we are all treated like humans instead of robots, but the one big difference I have encountered is the amount of time spent on video analysis.

"Coaches Patrice Lagisquet and Jacques Delmas probably spend five hours a week with us on video analysis, and I have certainly never been involved with a club that spends so much time in analysing opposition," Noon added.

"If the training on the pitch is relaxed, then the opposite is true of video analysis. It is very intense. Biarritz folk are very passionate people. They are passionate about their food, their lifestyle and their Basque identity, but most of all, it is their passion for rugby which makes it such a wonderful place to live.

"They know how to relax and enjoy themselves, but they still win trophies."

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