Perpignan’s England prop Perry Freshwater believes their Heineken Cup quarter-final clash against Toulon at the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona has all the ingredients of a “firecracker”.
The Catalan giants will fulfill a long-held ambition by taking their knock-out tie to the heart of the region next Saturday.
It will be the first time the football-mad city of Barcelona has hosted a Heineken Cup match, once again expanding the boundaries of Europe’s premier club rugby competition.
And, with the likes of Jonny Wilkinson, Carl Hayman and George Smith potentially lining up for opponents Toulon, Freshwater believes the game can match the occasion.
“This has all the ingredients for being a real firecracker of a game,” he said. “It has been an aim of the club for some time to stage a home quarter-final in Barcelona and now there is real excitement that it’s going to happen.
“Everyone has been talking about this game for weeks, even the players, and we know there will be huge support for us.
“It’s a massive game not only for the Catalan identity but also for rugby and financially for the club. Barcelona is a major market to tap into and it’s great for rugby to be on such a big stage in a famous football city such as Barcelona.
“That brings pressure in itself and there will be a lot of expectancy on us to perform. We have worked hard to secure a home quarter-final but we’re not at our home ground and that will make the challenge even harder.”
The two clubs have starkly contrasting pedigrees in Europe. Perpignan, finalists in 2003 after reaching the semi-finals in 1999, take on a Toulon side competing in their first season in the tournament.
However defeats both home and away in the Top 14 against opponents who boast a star-studded squad has left Freshwater in no doubt as to the size of the task at hand.
“We haven’t had a fantastic season by our standards,” he added. “We’ve played Toulon twice this season, including a big game in Marseille, and lost both so we have a point to prove against them.
“They have quality throughout the side and some big-match players who played very well. In the past you could say Toulon were a collection of individuals without team cohesion but Philippe Saint-Andre has obviously brought that dynamic he honed during his time in England.
“He has also addressed the problem they had in recent years when their forwards could have been stronger by bringing in some big names.
“When you have a guy like Carl Hayman trotting onto the pitch, you know you are in a strong position. But the Georgian David Kubriashvili has come along very well and Sebastien Bruno is also coming back, so they have real strength in their front-row.
“Then of course they have Jonny, who has this amazing calming effect on everyone he plays with. He controls the game and steers the ship for them.
“We had the wind knocked out of our sails a bit by losing 25-24 at home to Toulouse last Friday but this is a different competition and a new challenge. The guys have had this game in the back of their minds since January. The fact that it is against another French team will make us even more determined to win.”