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.
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Speaking after the game at Franklin's Gardens, Director of Rugby Nigel Davies reflected on a disappointing final quarter which saw Northampton Saints ease their way to a comfortable 39-13 win on Saturday afternoon.
Gloucester Rugby TV caught up with Gareth Evans this week ahead of the trip to Northampton Saints in the Aviva Premiership. The back rower explained his pride in his performances this season but knows there is still a lot for him to learn.
Gloucester Rugby travel to take on the table topping Northampton Saints in the Aviva Premiership on Saturday. Director of Rugby Nigel Davies is well aware of the qualities of Jim Mallinder's side, but Gloucester are the only team to defeat the Saints in the league this season.
Gloucester number eight Ben Morgan is hoping to start against Wales a week on Sunday, a team containing a number of former club team mates. He told the RFU.com website that he's looking forward to the prospect.
Second row James Hudson spoke to the club website following the 25-20 victory over Harlequins about how missed chances made things nervy late on, on what was a hugely emotional day for the Gloucester team.
Dan Murphy spoke to Gloucester Rugby TV after the win over Harlequins. The front rower touched down for the crucial second half score and expressed his delight at the performance and insisted the importance to push on from it.
Mike Tindall skippered Gloucester Rugby to victory over Harlequins on Saturday afternoon. It was his 200th Premiership appearance but, talking after the game, he said the milestone would have meant little without a Gloucester win.
England Under 20s have named their side to take on Wales for Friday's Under 20 Six Nations clash at Kingston Park, and Gloucester Rugby duo Billy Burns and Ross Moriarty keep their places in the starting line-up, with Jonny Hill named on the bench.
Would you like to be a mascot this season at Kingsholm? Rendcomb College are giving away the opportunity for one lucky person to become mascot and lead the team out at the Newcastle fixture on the 22nd March.