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.
Brighton is the venue of choice for England this week as the squad have reported for a training camp to prepare for the upcoming international against Wales. GRTV caught up with Gloucester's Matt Kvesic after the first day's training.
Speaking to GRTV after the game, Gloucester Rugby number eight Ben Morgan reflected on the loss to Northampton Saints, and spoke about what he and the team need to do for the new season when the team return after the summer break.
In only his second Aviva Premiership outing, Lloyd Evans scored his first senior try for Gloucester against Northampton Saints on Saturday and told GRTV afterwards that he enjoyed the experience despite finishing on the losing side.
Gloucester will round off their Aviva Premiership campaign on Saturday with a tough finale against Northampton Saints. Director of Rugby David Humphreys told the local media this week that he's pleased with the team's attitude over the past two games and is looking for more of the same.
Speaking to GRTV after the 12-11 Aviva Premiership victory at Sale Sharks on Friday evening, Matt Kvesic described it as a real team effort with several players having to play out of position due to illness and injury in the ranks.
Despite he and a number of his team mates playing out of position, Greig Laidlaw's four penalties were enough to help Gloucester to a 12-11 Aviva Premiership win at Sale on Friday evening. The skipper told GRTV after the game that everyone had played their part, especially the younger players.
Ross Moriarty played the full 80 minutes for Wales, while Matt Kvesic was a second half replacement for England as Eddie Jones' side defeated Warren Gatland's men by 27 points to 13 at Twickenham on Sunday.