Coaches Reveal Key To URC Success In Europe

Coaches Reveal Key To URC Success In Europe

So, what’s the secret behind the success of the United Rugby Championship sides in Europe this season?

Well, there seems to be a growing consensus that the addition of the South African sides to the league has really steeled the teams for battle.

When you hear a highly experienced coach like Toby Booth say the block of fixtures his Ospreys have faced over the past two months has been the toughest he has encountered in his whole career, it certainly strikes a chord.

It’s an intense, demanding programme that is resulting in the URC sides hitting new heights. They delivered 13 wins between them in the Heineken Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup last weekend and all 16 sides are still in with a shout of reaching the knock-out stages with the final round of group matches coming up this weekend.

Leinster, Cell C Sharks, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Connacht, Glasgow Warriors, Scarlets and Benetton have already qualified with a game to spare in their respective competitions and a number of fellow URC sides are set to join them.

Reflecting on the positive Europe results, Booth - who has previously coached in England at London Irish, Bath and Harlequins - commented: “I think it speaks volumes to be fair.
“We have talked about the South African teams coming into the URC and raising the bar and they have certainly done that. It’s increased the physicality of the league and we have had to respond to that.

“We have had to work out how we can compete physically because we are often up against bigger teams. So it provides good learning opportunities and allows us to look at doing things slightly differently to make us more robust.

“The other thing the URC gives you is we are used to playing different places, different countries, lots of travel. That creates a certain resilience and adaptability. You have to adapt to different refereeing, different continents.

“Europe, if you think about it, is quite close to that. The URC provides some of the challenges that you need to face on a weekly basis so it becomes more normal. So the league format does allow us an opportunity to be very competitive in Europe, for sure.”

On the subject of being battle-hardened, the Ospreys’ last eight fixtures in the URC and Champions Cup have been: Vodacom Bulls (away), Cell C Sharks (away), Leicester (home), Montpellier (away), Scarlets (home), Cardiff (away), Leinster (home) and Montpellier (home).

Having completed the double over French title holders Montpellier with a thrilling 35-29 victory last weekend, they now complete their Europe group campaign by travelling to English champions Leicester on Friday night.

“This, without a doubt, has been the hardest period of my coaching career in relation to opposition, off-field challenge, unknowns and uncertainty,” said Booth.

“But that’s the beauty of coaching. That’s why we do what we do. It’s not straight forward and you have to find a way.”

Unbeaten Leinster are out in front in both the URC and their Champions Cup pool, so what are their thoughts on how the league prepares them for Europe?

Here’s the take from their Kiwi assistant coach Andrew Goodman.

“There have been a number of tight games in the URC where we have been pushed and had to come through some tricky scenarios,” he said.

“All those matches have prepared us really well for what comes up in the European fixtures.

“The intensity of the inter-pro matches over the holiday period was right up there and we talked about the Ospreys game and what great preparation that was going into Gloucester.”

Former centre Goodman had a two season spell as a player at Leinster from 2012-14 during the era of the old RaboDirect Pro12.

So now that he has returned to the province after coaching back home in New Zealand with Tasman and the Crusaders, how does the URC compare with what he experienced a decade ago?

“The South African teams coming in has added a new dimension and made it really competitive,” he said.

“It has definitely increased the strength of the league and you can see how well they are doing in the European competition now as well.

“The different styles of rugby going head to head against each other week to week is great to see and as a coach it keeps you on your toes.”

Leinster have 15 wins from 15 matches in all competitions so far this term as they prepare to host Racing 92 in the Champions Cup on Saturday.

So is it possible for them to go through the entire season undefeated?

“You will have to wait and see! It’s possible,” replied Goodman.

“We still see massive growth in our game. We will just keep chipping away and taking the wins as we go through. Let’s talk again at the end of the year!”

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