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James Hart on Grenoble's slump from Heineken Cup chasers to relegation battlers

The Irish scrum-half has been part of a team that has slumped from fourth to 10th in the last two months.

A Grenoble cartoon, posted on Twitter, featuring Bernard Jackman and James Hart discussing St Patrick's Day.
A Grenoble cartoon, posted on Twitter, featuring Bernard Jackman and James Hart discussing St Patrick's Day.

IT IS EXTREMELY DISAPPOINTING; we were riding high just a few weeks ago and are now worried about relegation from the Top 14. We have gone from challenging for the Heineken Cup [qualification] spots and a home tie in the league playoffs, to looking anxiously at the standings and doing our sums.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly how we have fallen away so badly. Performance levels have dropped off and there has been a loss of the confidence and belief we had at the start of the year. We had such a great start to the season and the middle part of the season — wins over Toulon and Clermont — was pretty good too.

Since the start of last month, however, we seem to forgotten to do the very things that got us in such a great position in the first place. We’ve defeated Castres, Clermont, Toulon, Racing and Toulouse but there is no point beating the big teams if you can’t back it up with consistent performances, and the same intensity levels, each week.

I think we will be safe [Grenoble are three points clear of the bottom four sides] but to go from fourth in the league to 10th in less than two months is tough to take. We play Toulouse at Stade Ernest Wallon on Saturday and need a result to make sure we are not looking on other teams for favours. Toulouse are tied on points with Stade Francais for the final Heineken Cup spot so they will be hell-bent on getting the home win against us.

As I said, it is hard to put a finger in our recent slump. Every team gets tired so, even with our stretched squad, that can not be an excuse. Maybe we thought we were better than we were and stopped giving that extra 10 and 20% of effort that is needed to beat teams in this league. After beating a few of the top teams, maybe we thought wins would come easy to us but you have to earn it each week.

If you look at the top six now, teams like Montepellier, Castres and Racing — the big teams — are right up there and most have come good at the right time. We have been guilty of taking our foot off the pedal; that is just inviting teams to come and beat you. This league is relentless and we have found that out, to our cost.

HART Hart spins a training ground pass. Source: Grenoble Rugby

Against Bayonne, in our last league game, we came out and played the first half with confidence. We probably didn’t score as much as we should have when we had the upper hand but Bayonne had a man sent to the sin bin and we took advantage. We went 13 points up and should have cleaned up but we had a yellow card ourselves, Bayonne hung in there, put us under pressure and took their scoring chances.

I had a chance to make it a five-point game but didn’t catch my conversion right. I had scored tougher kicks earlier in the game — my kicking average in the Top 14 is over 80%, the second best — but there was a bit of wind, I tried to adjust for it and didn’t make the right connection. The game should have been dead and buried by then but, as it was, we were left with possession in the final minutes and tried to play down time through our forwards. With 10 seconds to go we were pinged on our final possession and Martin Bustos Mayano made no mistake with his penalty. A 21-21 draw.

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It is frustrating not to be able to back up all the great work we did earlier in the season. A lot of people have put a hell of a lot of work in and for it to unravel like this is disappointing.

To be fighting to stay in the Top 14 after we were well set for the Heineken Cup and playoffs hurts, I won’t lie. However, we have one big game left against a tough Toulouse side and we are determined to finish the season on a high. The signings we have made for next season — Jonathan Wisniewski, Gio Alpon, Jackson Willison, Chris Farrell, Charl McLeod — show the extent of our ambitions. We are eager to get to that next level and all we can do do is win this weekend, have a great pre-season and go at it again with a renewed appetite.

I was lucky to make it along to Marseilles to watch Munster play Toulon at Stade Velodrome in the Heineken Cup finals. It was a fantastic game and Munster were unfortunate to lose out to an extremely talented Toulon side. I must say, though, that the Munster fans were brilliant throughout and added to a great atmosphere.

Toulon are well set to secure top spot in the league and have Stade at home on Saturday. Toulouse, though, are another team not looking for favours so we will expect them to come out blazing.

– Follow James Hart @Jameswilliam91 and Grenoble @FCGrugby_EN

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James Hart  / Grenoble scrum-half

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