Top 14 teams ready for Champions Cup

Date published: October 13 2014

Members of the six Top 14 clubs were present at the third launch of the European Champions Cup which was held in Paris on Monday.

Players and coaches of the six Top 14 clubs were present at the third launch of the European Champions Cup which was held in Paris on Monday.

Toulon, who won Europe’s top prize in 2013 and 2014, Toulouse, Castres, Racing Metro, Clermont Auvergne, Montpellier will provide the French challenge in the competition.

The Top 14 coaches and captains were optimistic about the new competition.

Carl Hayman – RC Toulon captain

“Three in a row is definitely possible. There is a long way to go before we start talking about that, but it is definitely an aim – it’s why we are here and what we get paid for! We will prepare well and not take anything for granted.

“We are still motivated and keen to do well. After a year like the double we are keen to win some more silverware – and do the double-double if possible.

“It doesn’t happen that often for a reason. It’s a long old slog in the Top 14 and it’s very hard to aim to win both competitions. We don’t have the luxury of resting players as some teams have been able to do in the past in the PRO12.

“The owner keeps us well motivated and loves to keep us on the edge. The pools are going to be very tightly contested this season and so it is important to get as many points as possible at home.

“We start against the Scarlets and we know from their win at Harlequins last season that they can be very dangerous.”

Guy Noves – Toulouse director of rugby

“Montpellier is the most important game of the season as it is the next one. We know that in the European Cup the first game is crucial for the rest of the competition – even more so this year since the level of the tournament is higher and every mistake will be even harder to eradicate.

“We know Montpellier pretty well – we lost twice to them last season including a game at home during the 6 Nations period. They are a team to be feared and they are above us in the Top 14 rankings.

“I read somewhere that they are the favourites in our pool, although I’m not sure about that. We will go into the game with a lot of motivation and humility.

“With two victories in a row over Stade Francais and Toulon we are getting back to our normal level. But more than the victory over Toulon, I am happy I’ve got a few players back from injury. I’m really looking forward to the next two games when a few more players will join the team.

“I’m not sure if the win over Toulon is a turning point, but it was very good for us. What we can’t afford to do is let it go to our heads and think we are back to where we need to be.

“Next week we have to go to Bath and they are a team that can put 40 points on Leicester. Bath have grown this year and they are at the top of the Premiership. I also noted that the other side in our pool, Glasgow Warriors, beat Cardiff Blues. They are teams who are used to playing well and winning. It is a very tense pool, like all the pools this season.

“Reaching the quarter-finals this season would be a good performance. Even though we are four times champions and have been to the final six times, reaching the last eight would be great, but the first objective is to win against Montpellier on Sunday.”

Dimitri Szarzewski – Racing Metro 92 captain

“Northampton Saints are among the favourites to win the competition. They are champions of England and we are expecting a very big game against them. They have been at the top for the last three or four years and they have some exceptional players who can make a difference at any time in a game.

“The best way to come into a competition is to play them first. We know we will really have to play our best rugby – there will be no chance to adapt in the game. Last year we started well against Clermont with a win at home, but we drew against the Scarlets and then collapsed. This year the fact we are doing pretty well in the Top 14 might free us up to do well in Europe.

“I saw Northampton play against Bath, Gloucester and Sale, and when they start to get their game going it is nearly impossible to stop them. We need to find a way to upset them and impose ourselves on them.”

Laurent Labit – Racing Metro 92 coach

“We used the European Cup to prepare for the Top 14 last season, but this time around it is a real target for us to do well in Europe. We have a group of players that are better in quality and experience and so we can rally have a go at both competitions.

“The Welsh players we have recruited and Jonny Sexton know how important this competition is and have experienced what it’s like in the latter stages. A quarter-final would be a great achievement.

“The name has changed, but for us the competition is more or less the same. It is 20 teams instead of 24 and that just makes it a bit harder. There is going to be a special atmosphere because we have never been out of our pool before. That is a real ambition for us this season.

“I don’t know if we are able to win this competition, but the first step for us must be to reach the knockout stage. The game against Northampton is almost like a last 16 game. We know we can’t afford to lose a game at home and when you see the form they are in right now we know it is going to be very hard for us.”

Remi Tales – Castres Olympique captain

“It’s an honour to play in the first game in the new tournament and we hope we’ll be at the right level for the game against Harlequins. They are a very good team who are very ambitious in this tournament.

“We will have to try to close them down and stop their running game because they have so many talented players. If they manage to control the game then it will be very hard for us. We hope the tournament will help us to get some fresh air away from the Top 14.

“We won’t have the pressure of a league result for the next couple of games and I hope we can use that to find some of our form again.

“We had some ambitions for this tournament at the start of the season and possibly reaching the quarter-finals for the first time, but it is a bit more complicated now after our performances and results in the first nine games in the Top 14.”

Damien Chouly – ASM Clermont Auvergne captain

“It is going to be very hard against Saracens and Munster in our pool. They were in the semi-finals like us last year.

“We haven’t focused on Europe until now and we hope Jonno Gibbes can bring his vision and experience into our preparations following his success at Leinster. Historically, the European Cup has been our priority and we did well for a few years.

“We don’t have a preference between the Top 14 and Europe, but we do want to keep doing well in Europe, although we want to forget about our last game against Saracens in the semi-finals last season.

“Maybe we can use that defeat tactically as we prepare to go to Allianz Park. Clearly we didn’t play at our best at Twickenham last season. We weren’t good in defence and lacked cohesion – we totally missed that game!