No quarter will be given in pool 2 openers

No quarter will be given in pool 2 openers

Pool 2 of the Investec Champions Cup brings together a glut of former EPCR champions and finalists. Bath Rugby, Stade Toulousain and Ulster Rugby have all won the top prize, Cardiff Rugby and Racing 92 have both been runners-up, and Harlequins have lifted the Challenge Cup three times.

The opening weekend brings a repeat of the first-ever final, a cracking Anglo-Irish clash with a bona fide bogey to be laid to rest and a repeat of one of last year’s best pool-stage matches. No quarter will be given in this pool; it’s easy to imagine all teams finding a way through to the playoffs. 

Ulster Rugby back-up key for McCloskey 

Ulster Rugby, who travel to Bath Rugby on Saturday, won the whole thing back in 1999, with a comprehensive win over Colomiers, but while fans and historians alike can still get a little misty-eyed over it all, the Irish province have rarely troubled the final stages since. 

“I vaguely remember watching it on the TV - I was six or seven or so at the time,” said Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey. “You see enough pictures of it and you feel like you’ve watched it.” 

Since then, Ulster have been somewhat in the shadows of Leinster Rugby, who knocked Ulster Rugby out in the Round of 16 last season and narrowly did the same in the 2019 quarter-final despite Leinster Rugby missing a few players to injury, a memory McCloskey counts as one of his most vivid. 

“It’s my biggest memory,” he said. “We felt we could win that game. All the provinces seem to have brilliant first teams, but when you go down to the second tier, especially in Leinster, you’re surrounded by so much class and I think that’s key at Champions Cup level. 

“When you get into December and January, when there are injuries, you can’t always play your first team and it’s those guys coming up that make the difference.” 

Spencer aims to pass on winning touch 

Bath Rugby scrum-half Ben Spencer has experienced the joys of winning EPCR’s elite tournament a little more first-hand, as he was a part of the triumphant Saracens squad of 2016, 2017 and 2019.  

He’ll be aiming to use a little of that knowledge to inspire a Bath Rugby team who are rebuilding slowly but surely under coach Johann van Graan. 

“It's definitely something that I will remember for the rest of my career and probably for the rest of my life, something to tell the kids about,” he said about his tournament wins. 

“I think I could definitely pass on what I've learned and we're lucky in fact that we have Johann as a coach who's got a massive history in this competition. 

“It’s the competition everyone wants to play in. We did really well as a group to manage to qualify at the end of last season. We’re absolutely buzzing to get going and we’re looking forward to it.” 

Lewies eyes South African trip 

Harlequins charged into the new Gallagher Premiership season in fine form but hit a speed bump at home to Saracens in November, from which the team have since recovered as they prepare to visit Racing 92 on Sunday. 

“The weekend against Saracens was our first game we didn't really pitch up. It was a massive drop-off and disappointing for us,” said lock Stephan Lewies, who is excited to take on his fellow countrymen should Harlequins make it past the pool stages. 

“I love having South African teams in the Champions Cup. It’s great for us, as players get to travel and see the world,” he said. 

“I think they obviously are still getting to know the competition. They are still finding their feet and it will probably take them a few seasons to fully compete, but I think they're great addition.” 

Turnbull hails ‘formidable’ standard  

A grand old name of the game, Cardiff Rugby are likely to be considered outsiders for qualification from the pool, with Welsh regional rugby generally in a bit of a lull. But for Josh Turnbull, the experience can only make the team stronger, whatever the results. 

“The standard of rugby you’re playing against and the squads these teams can put together is pretty formidable,” he said, with five-times winners Stade Toulousain first up for the Welsh side at Stade Ernest Wallon on Saturday. 

“The amount of money being spent on players and bringing the best from around the world to play in this competition, the standard of rugby is massive, and it’s probably the closest thing you can get to international rugby.” 

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