Perpignan’s Heineken Cup hopes as good as ended at the first hurdle last year when they crashed to a shock 9-8 at Benetton Treviso – and eventually won just two of their Pool matches in what was their worst season in Europe’s premier club tournament.
Now fate has placed the two clubs in the same Pool for a remarkable fifth successive season with the overall score standing at 7-1 to Perpignan and joint captain Nicolas Mas adamant they will be giving the Italian champions the utmost respect when they arrive at Stade Aime Giral for Sunday’s Round 2 Pool 5 clash.
Mas, who was named as the pick of the tighthead props in last season’s Top 14 Dream Team, has played more Heineken Cup matches than any other Perpignan player and knows that after two seasons of failing to make the knock-out stages they cannot afford another unsuccessful campaign.
Despite scoring five tries in a nine-try spree they opened with a 43-34 defeat against the Scarlets at Parc y Scarlets in Round 1 and will now be intent on getting back to winning ways and adding to the 28 wins they have notched up in 31 home Heineken Cup matches.
“Our group is tight and we have got to win all our remaining games to avoid the same unfortunate sort of situation following last year’s result in Treviso,” said the cornerstone of the club’s scrum.
“That huge faux-pas had a major impact on our results for the rest of the Pool phase. And, while we can not and will not talk about revenge because it’s a new season, we will definitely be wary of them.
“It might have made some people smile that we lost against an Italian team but no one should underestimate them,” said Mas.
“More than ever the Italian teams are to be reckoned with, especially now that they have been included in the Magners League.
“That will ultimately increase the level of their competitiveness and confidence – and almost certainly complicate things for us even more – and overall we know we still have to do some work before being 100 per cent in competing in this new European campaign.”
Perpignan went within touching distance of claiming the trophy, going down 22-17 to Toulouse in Dublin in the 2003 final, but have made just two quarter-finals since then.
“We have not qualified for the knock-out stages for the last two seasons so this season everyone at the club expects and is aiming for at least the quarter-finals” he said.
“We are starting to gain in confidence again this season in our domestic league but without making too much of a fuss about it because we could well have lost our last but one game against Bayonne at the last minute. We did end up winning 26-25, and then beating La Rochelle in Round 9 of the Top 14, and making it six successive wins was certainly most pleasing.”
Head coach Jacques Brunel added: “Benetton Treviso is far from being an easy opponent and when you see their performance now in the Magners League they have proved they can measure up to the best teams in Europe, starting with former champions Leinster.
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“They are very dangerous opponents. We were made to realise that last season and, while that is still hard to swallow, at least now we are warned and we will definitely be wary of them.
“Winning the Heineken Cup is definitely an objective this season. We have had some disappointments in the last seasons in European rugby so we would like to redeem ourselves.”