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.
Gary Jones of Glevum Windows and Conservatories recently visited Kingsholm Stadium and the Cherry and White supporter spoke exclusively to Gloucester Rugby TV after marking two decades as a box holder in the Stowford Press Stand at Kingsholm. A great feat!
Speaking to the local media this week during preseason, new hooker Richard Hibbard said he was really enjoying putting in the hard work and being back to full fitness ahead of the 2014-15 season with the Cherry and Whites.
Nick Walshe was unveiled as Gloucester's new Backs and Attack Coach this week and spoke to Simon Ward for the RFU.com podcast about his excitement at joining Gloucester and working with a new group of players.
Speaking after the Third Test defeat to New Zealand, Ben Morgan told RFU.com that the loss was a disappointing way to sign off the summer tour but that the England team know what they have to do to be successful.
At the end of a tour when there have been so many positives for England, fly half Freddie Burns, who will start the third Test against New Zealand, was clear that the whole squad are focussed on signing off with a memorable win when he spoke to RFU.com
Speaking to Steve Jones of RFU.com straight after the 27-28 defeat to New Zealand on Saturday, Billy Twelvetrees spoke of the frustration of a missed opportunity, but stressed that England would lick their wounds and bounce back.
Freddie Burns contributed 12 points in England's 20-15 defeat against New Zealand on Saturday but, speaking after the game to RFU.com, preferred to talk about the many positives in the performance from Stuart Lancaster's side.
Gloucester number eight Ben Morgan put in a great individual performance as England were just pipped by New Zealand by 20 points to 15 in Auckland on Saturday. He told Steve Jones of RFU.com that the team will be in good spirits going into the 2nd Test in Dunedin.
It's been marked in the diary since the spring, but rugby will be returning to Kingsholm on July 31st. The holders host the Premiership Rugby Sevens for the third consecutive year, and Dan Robson can't wait to get on the field with the new look squad.
With almost a month of pre-season training with Gloucester Rugby already under his belt, James Voss is ready to hit the ground running as he links up with his Hartpury coaches and team-mates this week.
Premiership Rugby have today announced the fixtures for the second World Club Sevens tournament at Twickenham over the weekend of August 16-17 and Gloucester Rugby will kick off their Pool B campaign against Vodacom Blue Bulls.