Biarritz Olympique have contested 12 Heineken Cup tournaments - and Iain Balshaw believes they will only make that 13 if they go all the way and win the Amlin Challenge Cup Final at the Twickenham Stoop on Friday, May 18, and qualify as the tournament champions.
The 2006 and 2010 Heineken Cup finalists moved up to 10th place in the Top 14 following their 15-14 win against Clermont Auvergne last weekend, but remain some way off the pace for a top six finish and automatic Heineken Cup 2012/13 qualification.
Biarritz qualified for the knock-out stages of the Amlin Challenge Cup as one of the three Heineken Cup Pool runners-up - the Scarlets and reigning Amlin Challenge Cup champions Harlequins were the others - and the French giants travel to Adams Park to meet London Wasps in Saturday’s intriguing quarterfinal.
"We are unlikely to make the top six places and qualify for the Heineken Cup that way so that makes the Amlin Challenge Cup a massively important competition for us," said full back Balshaw, capped 35 times by England and a British and Irish Lion tourist to Australia in 2001.
"The Amlin is a huge competition and the incentive for us is that we are three games - albeit three very hard games - away from a trophy and that trophy also provides the winner with the gateway into next season’s Heineken Cup.
"We want to be playing in the best club competition in the world and that is the Heineken Cup but we have had a tremendously frustrating season so far because of our inconsistency - and that has shown in both our performances and results.
"Those unforced errors and turnovers had been killing us because if you give away around 12 of those chances then your opponents will take at least some of them and punish you with points.
"However, when we get our game spot on we can compete with anyone.
"Of course I know a fair bit about Wasps and in Director of Rugby Dai Young they have a fantastic manager and shrewd operator. We know they are also having something of a hard time in the Premiership and have a few long term injuries, but they will have the advantage of playing at home.
"Nicky Robinson is a key player for them but they also have some other dynamic backs and powerful ball carriers so if we gift them those unforced errors they will almost certainly take a few of them.
"But we will be focusing totally on ourselves and in getting the fundamentals right - the scrum, line-out and kick-offs - to give us a platform because we also have players capable of creating things."
Biarritz could be without star centre Damien Traille, the 32-year-old who won the last of his 87 French caps as a replacement in the 2011 Rugby World Cup final, due to a foot injury suffered in the crucial 34-17 Round 21 win in Lyon.
But fellow World Cup stars Dimitri Yachvili and Imanol Harinordoquy are back in club action after the Six Nations championship and vital to Biarritz prospects of making the last four.
"Those guys bring so much invaluable experience to the squad," said Balshaw. "Dimitri is one of the best scrum halves in the world and his goal kicking is second to none. He is pivotal to our game and when he is not available we certainly miss him badly.
"Imanol is the team’s talisman, as well as being one of the game’s greatest back row forwards, and his ball carrying and work rate around the field are phenomenal.
"We are fortunate that most of our squad is fit and raring to go and we have to approach the Wasps match as a fantastic chance of qualifying for the semi-finals."
All the fixtures and teams for the quarterfinals!
Thursday, April 5:
Stade Francais v Exeter Chiefs
(Stade Charléty - Kick-off: 20.45; 18.45)
Stade Français: 15 Djibril Camara, 14 Paul Sackey, 13 Morgan Turinui, 12 Paul Williams, 11 Julien Arias, 10 Felipe Contepomi, 9 Julien Dupuy, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Antoine Burban, 6 George Smith, 5 Pascal Pape, 4 Anton van Zyl, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.
Replacements: 16 Laurent Sempere, 17 Olivier Milloud, 18 Stan Wright, 19 Alexandre Flanquart, 20 David Lyons, 21 Pierre Rabadan, 22 Jerome Fillol, 23 Hugo Bonneval.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Bryan Rennie, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Ignacio Mieres, 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Richard Baxter, 7 James Scaysbrook, 6 Tom Johnson, 5 James Hanks, 4 Tom Hayes (captain), 3 Craig Mitchell, 2 Chris Whitehead, 1 Hoani Tui.
Replacements: 16 Neil Clark, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Chris Budgen, 19 Aly Muldowney, 20 Ben White, 21 Kevin Barrett, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Sireli Naqelevuki.
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Assistant referees: James Jones (Wales), David Wilkinson (Ireland)
TMO: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
Friday, April 6:
Toulon v Harlequins
(Stade Félix Mayol - Kick-off: 20.45; 18.45)
Toulon: 15 Benjamin Lapeyre, 14 Alexis Palisson, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 David Smith, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Joe van Niekerk (captain), 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Pierrick Gunther, 5 Dean Schofield, 4 Christophe Samson, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Sebastien Bruno, 1 Eifion Lewis-Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Romain Frou, 18 Davit Kubriashvili, 19 Joe El Abd, 20 Gabi Lovobalavu, 21 Luke Rooney, 22 Fabien Cibray, 23 Jocelino Suta.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Tom Williams, 13 Matt Hopper, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Karl Dickson, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Luke Wallace, 6 Tom Guest, 5 George Robson (captain), 4 Tomas Vallejos, 3 James Johnston, 2 Rob Buchanan, 1 Mark Lambert.
Replacements: 16 Aston Croall, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Will Collier, 19 Peter Browne, 20 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 21 Danny Care, 22 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 23 George Lowe.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Dudley Phillips (Ireland), Carlo Damasco (Italy)
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)
Saturday, April 7:
London Wasps v Biarritz Olympique
(Adams Park - Kick-off: 12.30; 12.30 GMT)
London Wasps: TBC
Biarritz Olympique: TBC
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Peter Allan (Scotland), Leo Colgan (Ireland)
Sunday, April 8:
Brive v Scarlets
(Stadium Municipal - Kick-off: 20.15; 18.15 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Greg Garner (England), Paul Dix (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes
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