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.
David Humphreys spoke to the local press after the Gloucester Rugby team to face Exeter Chiefs on Friday was announced. Henry Purdy is making his Premiership debut for Gloucester and thoroughly deserves his chance says Humphreys.
Dan Murphy was part of a Gloucester pack which took a grip as the Sale game progressed and, ultimately, were rewarded with a late penalty try. The loose head prop says the team's improved scrummaging is down to a lot of hard work over the summer.
Gloucester clinched their first Aviva Premiership win of the season on Saturday, 34-27 over Sale Sharks, and scrum half Greig Laidlaw felt that the Kingsholm crowd played a massive part as they spurred the team on.
David Humphreys spoke to Gloucester Rugby TV after the 34-27 win over Sale Sharks at Kingsholm. The Director of Rugby praised the Kingsholm crowd for spurring the team on to a super second half comeback.
Speaking to Gloucester Rugby TV this week, Sione Kalamafoni is expecting a tough, physical battle against Sale Sharks as the Cherry and Whites return to Kingsholm for Round Two of the Aviva Premiership
Previewing this weekend's Aviva Premiership fixture at home to Sale Sharks with the local media, Director of Media David Humphreys admitted he's looking forward to the team's first competitive outing in front of their own supporters.
The message from the Gloucester Rugby Ticket Office is that tickets still remain for this evening's Aviva Premiership game against Exeter Chiefs and that there are a large number of tickets to be collected on the night.
Following the announcement of the 2014/15 LV= Cup fixtures on July 25, the Welsh Regions, WRU, Premiership Rugby , RFU and LV= Organising Committee have come to an agreement regarding the arrangement of Round 1 fixtures for the Welsh Regions, which clash with the Guinness Pro 12 Round 7.