Any match which pits Aimar Olaizola against Juan Martinez de Irujo is bound to set the blood racing. Such was the demand for tickets to witness the latest chapter of their rivalry that ‘sold out’ signs bedecked Labrit on Saturday morning before 1200 people filled its seats in eager anticipation. The ensuing match did not disappoint and it gave us a clear winner: after last week’s bafflingly bad loss, Aimar and Oier are firmly back on track.
In a match which lasted an hour and included more than 800 strikes of the ball, the defending champions demonstrated what earned them their txapelas last spring. Mendizabal pulled off a performance which was so much better than that of last week that he was barely recognisable. He was safe and secure in defence, having found both his power and his timing, and did not commit an error until the score stood at 11-9. Fernando Goni’s performance was also an improvement but it was not enough to counter a revitalised Oier. Aimar Olaizola too played his considerable part, ever intelligent and ever in control, marshalling the match like a major on the battlefield. He avoided entanglement with Irujo by repeatedly hitting long, with the added aim of punishing Goni. When he did lock horns with his great rival, he almost always emerged the least bloodied. And so we come to Irujo, the perennial enigma, sometimes brilliant, sometimes erratic. In a game where the object is to reach 22 points, 14 is an unacceptable number of errors. True, the Asegarce pair played a stunning match and exerted huge pressure on their rivals, but that Irujo had a bad night cannot be denied.
The first stage of this competition has many more weeks to run and there is no need for any pair to panic at this early stage, but the alarm bells must surely be ringing for Irujo and Goni, vague and distant, but there nonetheless. Olaizola and Mendizabal can afford a sigh of relief having put the misery of last weekend behind them, but they must continue to fight. And so, another chapter in the Aimar-Irujo book has been written; who knows what the next installment may bring?