Gloucester and France defence coach Dave Ellis looks back at last weekend's Heineken action and a story from his early coaching days whilst managing on a limited budget.
Dave Ellis - Weekly Update
The Heineken Cup once again provided some exceptional rugby last weekend with three French and one English club left in the final four.
Each of the victorious teams have unique characteristics and approaches to the game - Toulouse have a flamboyant style, Stade Francais appear clinical in their approach, Leicester are efficient in all aspects, and Biarritz show real commitment in their displays.
Although there are differences in the style of rugby these teams play, there are also interesting similarities. For instance, as well as having quality players, each of these sides has exceptionally big squads and the luxury of having international replacements on the bench cannot be over estimated.
There is no doubting that the introduction of impact players can change the course of a game and ultimately affect the result, but perhaps more importantly it creates healthy competition within the squads.
Players need to be kept motivated and the fear of losing their place in the starting line-up is often an extremely effective incentive. Austin Healy's 'tongue in cheek' comments that he "considered taking an axe to John Wells car" (after being left out in place of Sam Vesty) illustrate this fact particularly well.
The French clubs do have an advantage over their English counterparts, benefiting from having no salary cap and restrictions to their recruitment. Leicester however, have managed to build a team which has experience in the shape of Johnson, Back, Rowntree and youth with the like of Ellis, Lloyd and Smith.
This combination of quality in the form of hardened professionals and youthful enthusiasm has created a fine balance in the Tigers team and a blend that Premiership clubs will be looking to achieve next season.
With budgets limited through either financial controls or salary caps, it puts more pressure on head coaches to recruit effectively, bringing players in who are able to provide balance and leadership.
All this mention of squad budgets and salary caps is light years away from my early coaching career. One of my first jobs in France was with Corbeill XIII an amateur team who played in the 'Ile de France' Competition. At my first session six players attended, no one had ever done any gym work or conditioning and we had to clear glass and dog excreta from the field before training.
The club had very little money and I had two options available, one to pack my bags and return to England with my family, or two, find creative solutions to the problems. I opted for the latter and addressed the issues. We moved training to a floodlight tennis club, I retired a couple of the older players with bad habits, tapped into the junior section and managed to persuade a couple of English players with the 'right attitude' to come over and play for me. In addition I opened up the basement of my house and ran three weights circuit classes to supplement the squad training nights.
Corbeill XIII was far from the most skilful team, but we managed to bolt experience, youth and enthusiasm together and in my second season gained success by winning the cup and League double.
In stark contrast to my early years in Paris, we are currently in the process of moving from Kingsholm to enjoy the new complex at Hartpury College. The training facilities are brand new, far superior to the aged equipment at the club and I can already detect players feel more comfortable in the new settings.
Training and playing in the same facilities week in, week out, understandably leads to staleness and I believe the new complex will provide a refreshing change with players and coaches benefiting from the more professional surroundings.
In 2002/2003, our most successful season in recent times (when we won the Powergen Cup and finished top of the League before losing to Wasps in the play off final), we had a squad capable of challenging for silverware.
Our objective next season is to build on our talented young squad by recruiting the right type of individuals to create a competitive environment and provide real opposition to the best in Europe.
Gloucester Rugby CEO Stephen Vaughan was delighted to introduce ADEY Professional Heating Solutions as the club's new main sponsor this week. He spoke to the club website about the exciting new partnership.
Although understandably disappointed following the 40-39 defeat at Exeter, Freddie Burns thought that both teams fully contributed to a great spectacle but that a couple of refereeing decisions were key to the outcome.
Gloucester's final game of the season ended in a narrow defeat in a pulsating encounter at the Exeter Chiefs. The Cherry and Whites went down 40-39, as Gareth Steenson's dramatic late penalty meant that the end of Director of Rugby Nigel Davies' first season in charge ended in defeat. Davies spoke to the official website in the Devon sunshine.
Dave Lewis was in a tough situation on Saturday afternoon - playing for Gloucester against the side he will join next season, Exeter Chiefs. At the final whistle though, Lewis was simply disappointed to have lost the game.
Tongan second row Lua Lokotui is looking forward to catching up with some old acquaintances at Sandy Park when Gloucester take on Exeter Chiefs on Saturday afternoon, as he and his team mates hope to finish the season on a high note.
During a break from training ahead of Saturday's Aviva Premiership fixture at Exeter, centre Henry Trinder hopes that Gloucester build on the momentum from the recent win over Saracens, and expressed frustration that he's hitting form as the season end approaches after missing time due to injury.
Gloucester Rugby may have already clinched their Heineken Cup spot for 2013-14, but Director of Rugby Nigel Davies stressed this week that it's important for Gloucester to finish their season on a positive note at Exeter on Saturday.
Gloucester Rugby CEO Stephen Vaughan spoke to the Official Site this afternoon after he revealed the great news that Kingsholm Stadium was to play host to 4 pool matches of the Rugby World Cup 2015. He spoke of how much it means to the club as a whole and that all the hard work put in with Gloucester's bid had been rewarded.
On an exciting day for both Gloucester Rugby and the City, the Cherry and Whites' own World Cup Winner Jimmy Cowan spoke to the Official Site expressing his delight that Kingsholm had been chosen as a Host City and Venue for the Rugby World Cup 2015.
Anyone who has visited Kingsholm Stadium in the past couple of weeks will have noticed that the pitch isn't quite looking as it normally does. Stadium Manager Dave Balmer explained what work is currently taking place.