Munster have had some memorable days in the south of France over the years and that track record, combined with poor form and injury worries, has contrived the French media to paint the Irish province as favourites and Biarritz as underdogs.
The loss of French international centre Damien Traille has undoubtedly been a devastating blow for the Basque side and the uncertainty surrounding inspirational backrow forward Imanol Harinordoquy only served to further increase butterflies in stomachs in recent days.
Traille scored three drop goals in Biarritz’ hard-fought 29-28 quarter-final win over the Ospreys and is the club’s defensive and offensive lynchpin.
Backs coach Jack Isaac admitted that the loss of Traille had thrown the cat amongst the pigeons.
“First off, I feel really disappointed for Damien,” said Isaac. “I had a bit of the blues last Saturday night thinking about him and how I was going to reorganise the three-quarters. He’s a big game player and there’s no doubt that we’re going to miss the special things he brings to the game.
Isaac added: “We’ll be redistributing his responsibilities because he was central to much of the way that Biarritz play but we’ll adjust those responsibilities accordingly. I think his absence may trigger a greater collective strength.”
Much comment has been made in the media here regarding Munster’s last visit to France in December, when they hammered the French champions Perpignan 14-37 in front of their own supporters. There is a real fear here in the Pays Basque that combined with the massive loss of Traille, Biarritz simply won’t have to firepower to hurt a Munster side in full flow.
“The loss of Damien Traille is a heavy blow to Biarritz’ hopes,” said L’Equipe pundit and ex-international Alain Penaud.
“The weather forecast doesn’t look like it’s going to work in their favour either. Biarritz are going to need a leg up.”
Biarritz president Serge Blanco said that he was under no illusions as to the size of the task ahead of his team. With a vociferous home support behind them, all he would ask of his side, he declared, is that they play their hearts out.
“We know that they are largely favourites,” said Blanco. “But I can tell you that the boys have been speaking about the spirit in the camp and how much they’re looking forward to it.
“(Munster) are a strong team who’ve won a few European titles and many semi-finals. They’re a machine created to win the Heineken Cup. Along with Toulouse, they have been the team of the decade. In terms of Biarritz, we are just going to follow our dream and do the best we can.”