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.
Speaking to the media following the 31-33 West Country Challenge Cup defeat to Exeter Chiefs at the Memorial Stadium, Director of Rugby David Humphreys was full of praise for his side's battling qualities in a bruising encounter but concerned about the injuries picked up.
The West Country Challenge Cup fixture against the Exeter Chiefs at the Memorial Stadium in Bristol on Saturday (kick off 3pm) will be Gloucester's last chance to work on things like new combinations says Director of Rugby, David Humphreys.
Speaking after the 30-21 West Country Challenge Cup defeat at Bath, Director of Rugby David Humphreys spoke of the improvements his team are making as preseason progresses but acknowledges that there is still work to do ahead of the start of the Aviva Premiership.
Speaking to the local media ahead of Saturday's trip to Bath Rugby in the West Country Challenge Cup, front rower Nick Wood spoke of the hard work put in across the extended preseason and highlighted the competition for front row spots in the squad.
Gloucester have named a 30 man squad for the latest round of West Country Challenge Cup action against Bath on Saturday, with Director of Rugby David Humphreys stressing the need to keep an eye on player workload ahead of what will be a long, tough season.
Describing the 50-7 West Country Challenge Cup win over Bath on Sunday as a '...good hit out...', wing Charlie Sharples admitted that it had been a good opportunity to put into practice things that the squad have been trying out in training in recent weeks.
Speaking to the local media after the 50-7 victory over Bath Rugby on Sunday, David Humphreys was happy with his squad's effort, with the most important aspect being the game time earned by his players.
Gloucester make wholesale changes to the side that started at Exeter last Saturday as they prepare to take on Bath at the Memorial Stadium, Bristol on Sunday in the West Country Challenge Cup (kick off 3pm). The Director of Rugby told GRTV that the players are raring to go and that he's looking forward to seeing different combinations in action.
A late penalty from Exeter fly-half Will Hooley gave the Chiefs a narrow 33-31 West Country Challenge Cup win over a heroic Gloucester outfit in a bruising encounter at the Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Gloucester Rugby will play their fourth and final West Country Challenge Cup fixture this weekend (Memorial Stadium, Bristol, 3pm) against the Exeter Chiefs, and have named a side featuring a host of first regulars.
On Wednesday evening, Gloucester Rugby duo Mark Atkinson and Tom Savage visited local rugby club Hardwicke and Quedgeley Harlequins RFC for the first session as part of the Gloucester Rugby in Local Clubs coaching initiative.