Pro12 captains prepare for Europe

Date published: October 7 2014

The first of three European Champions Cup launches took place in Dublin, with captains and coaches from the Pro12 teams attending.

The first of three European Champions Cup launches took place in Dublin on Monday, with captains and coaches from the Pro12 teams in attendance.

There will be seven sides from the Pro12 in action this season, with Irish trio Munster, Leinster and Ulster joined by Welsh pair the Ospreys and the Scarlets.

They will compete alongside last year’s Pro12 finalists Glasgow Warriors, and Italian side Benetton Treviso.

Anthony Foley (Munster head coach)
“It’s so important that you go into the first round of games and come away with a positive mentality to take into the November international break. Sometimes it can be hard to get momentum between Rounds 2 and 3 because you are missing a group of players.

“In December, with Rounds 3 and 4, you have a continuous group of players and a block of fixtures and it is important then to get momentum. But you have to make sure you capitalise on that momentum.

“You have to go into every game looking to get four points out of it. We all know how difficult it is to win away from home and we have to go to Sale Sharks first up in our pool.

“I’m sure they, like Saracens who are also in our pool, will be sitting down and looking at us and saying, ‘Thomond Park is a difficult place to go as well’. We’ve played against Sale before and we know they have some very good players, so it is going to be a tough start for us.”

Peter O’Mahony (Munster captain)
“It was great to be back on the field for the win over Leinster, even if it was only for a small amount of time. But in the past we have backed up some good performances like that with some poor ones and we can’t afford to allow that to happen this time with the Champions Cup coming up.

“In many ways the next three weeks are among the most important in our season, with the Scarlets as a dress rehearsal for Europe before we meet Sale Sharks and Saracens.

“There’s a huge amount of pedigree in the teams in our pool and when it comes to European time there is no doubt the games have a bit more bite and that it’s a bit more special.”

Matt O’Connor (Leinster head coach)
“When it comes to playing matches in Europe every minute is important and every action is vitally important not only to the outcome of that game but also what goes on in the pool.

“We’ve got two Aviva Premiership sides in our pool and by its very nature the competition takes its toll on teams because it is attritional. Sometimes English clubs have been criticised for not being able to raise their games coming into Europe but I don’t see that being a problem for Wasps or Quins.

“Dai Young has some of the best finishers around in his back three and has put together a strong squad at Wasps, while Quins have a lot of quality, international players in their side. The likes of Mike Brown, Danny Care, Nick Easter and Chris Robshaw have all done good things at international level.

“Castres may be struggling at the moment in the Top 14 but that’s probably because they are down a couple of quality players. They will come back and I am sure they will be very difficult opposition.”

Jamie Heaslip (Leinster captain)
“We just need to cut out the kind of defensive errors we made against Munster and take as many lessons out of the defeat as we can. We have to quickly get over it and it’s good that we have got a tough away game against Zebre before we head into the Champions Cup.

“We didn’t play to the standards we have set ourselves against Munster and we need to rectify that. We have lost games before and still had success at the end of the season.

“The bigger the teams you play the less opportunities you get, so we need to make the most of everything we create when we get into Europe.”

Neil Doak (Ulster coach)
“We are trying to build a squad that can be competitive on both fronts, Pro12 and Champions Cup. Across the board you need a bit of luck to go along with quality players and a good squad.

“Losing Iain Henderson and Dan Tuohy has been a big blow for us, but getting Ruan Pienaar back will give us greater strength in depth. We had to go to Welford Road last season for our last pool match in Europe and we know just how tough it’s going to be going back there for our opening game.

“Regardless of how many injuries they have, we know they will be hugely competitive. This game will give them an opportunity to start afresh in a new competition. There is always a different intensity to European matches and we are expecting a huge challenge.”

Rory Best (Ulster captain)
“You can tell how difficult our pool is because some people are making Scarlets the underdogs. Starting off at Welford Road just shows how unbelievably difficult it is going to be to get out of our pool.

“We know they have got a lot of injuries at Leicester, but they are still one of the top clubs in Europe and we are under no illusions about how hard it is going to be against them.”

Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys captain)
“It would be very nice if we could translate our form in the Pro12 into European competitions, but we know it doesn’t work that way. We also know that some of our results to date have been flattering.

“We all understand that Europe is the ultimate proving ground for us and that regardless of how well we do in the Pro12 we will be judged on whether or not we reached the play-offs in the Champions Cup.

“Unfortunately, my experiences in Europe are largely limited to pool matches and only one quarter-final against Biarritz Olympique. I’d love to change that and if we can get a few kinks ironed out in our game I think we can kick on.

“The tournament has been concentrated into five pools and that has only made it harder all round. It also means the quality of teams in the European Rugby Challenge Cup has increased.”

Gruff Rees (Ospreys backs coach)
“Everyone will recognise that we have been challenged over the last few years and we have not achieved anything in Europe. We are still underdogs in the pool itself but we deserve that tag.

“It’s important we get the campaign off to a flier against Treviso. But we are not taking anything for granted.”

Ken Owens (Scarlets captain)
“Europe is going to be tough but every pool is tough in Europe. We have to relish playing against the best clubs and players.

“The boys have got to try and enjoy it and put in performances they can be proud of. We have to be brave and not let the bigger teams get on top of us.

“We have to go out there and play our brand of rugby. We have scored some great tries recently and if we can tighten up a bit in defence we will be a very difficult proposition for anyone. If we get it right on the day we are more than capable of beating anyone.”

Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors)
“We have learned that you have to back up good performances week-in, week-out and we were hoping to get out of our pool last year. But we lost in Toulon and then