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By ERC Media Unit
Biarritz Olympique – the 2006 and 2010 Heineken Cup finalists – hope it is third time lucky in their pursuit of a European title when they clash with Toulon in the Amlin Challenge Cup final at the Twickenham Stoop on Friday night (8.00pm).
Serge Blanco, Biarritz Olympique’s most famous player and now the club’s president, is desperate for the club to book a place in the Heineken Cup for a 13th successive season.
However, despite a 16-5 home victory over Stade Français Paris in the 26thand final round of the Top 14 clinching a ninth place finish, it means the only avenue left open to them is as Amlin Challenge Cup champions, the same route taken by Harlequins a year ago.
“I want to be in the Heineken Cup because we have been playing in that competition for the last 12 years,” said Blanco, France’s flamboyant former full back who won 93 caps for his country.
“We want to be there because it is a tradition for Biarritz, because we enjoy that competition and because we must play the best teams and the best teams are in the Heineken Cup.
“I believe that having kept the club in the Top 14 plus a Heineken Cup ticket for next season we would have shown our supporters that this season was just a hiccup and the squad have reacted superbly.
“We are never happy just to be in a final because you still need to win it but it has been a relief to play this competition because we could play the Heineken Cup next year by winning at the Stoop.
“We will go to London to win this final – we cannot do otherwise.”
Blanco brought the curtain down on his illustrious career in the 1992 French Championship final at Parc des Princes – against Toulon. That contest ended in a 19-14 defeat for Biarritz and Blanco is hoping history does not repeat itself in London.
“It is interesting,” said Blanco, “but I like Toulon because I played some exceptional physical matches against them.
“It was all about another rugby and another time. But I do not have any sadness or regrets. Times change and I hope this time the title will go to us.
“And there are no secrets to success – to beat this kind of team you must play an absolutely huge game.”
“As it always is with Biarritz, we respect Toulon and we know that will be a huge rugby game, a big battle, and I hope the French rugby will show that it deserved four teams in the semi-finals.
“I hope it will have a good impact on the Top14 and I hope that it will show the values and the toughness of our national championship.
“As far as our Top 14 position is concerned sometimes we have a big headache and the following week everything is better.
“Our team is now better that it was two months ago. It is the proof that without the World Cup and then with a complete squad the season would have been different. But it has given us the motivation to keep the club in the Top14 and get a Heineken Cup ticket for next season.”