Competition: Heineken Champions Cup, Pool B Round 1
Date: 9th December 2022
Stadium: Gtech Community Stadium
The long-awaited return to Heineken Champions Cup is almost over for London Irish, who open up the 2022/23 competition this Friday at home against Top 14 champions, Montpellier Hérault.
Montpellier had a three-match win streak end against Clermont Auvergne last week and currently sit fifth in this year of the Top 14 after six wins and six losses, new out-half Louis Carbonel aiding in their top six standing with the third-highest points in the league (130).
In the first ever competitive meeting between the Clubs, Philippe Saint-André’s side travel to west London to begin their 11th campaign in Europe’s top knockout competition, their seventh consecutive Champions Cup berth.
They achieved qualification after finishing second in the French top tier last year, going on to win their first league title with play-off victories over Union Bordeaux Bègles and Castres Olympique.
In their continental pursuit of silverware, Les Cistes emerged from their pool last term with wins over Leinster Rugby and Exeter Chiefs, then conquering Harlequins by one point on an aggregate score before falling short to eventual champions, La Rochelle, in the quarter-finals.
Crashing out of the 2020/21 pool stages led to the Hérault-based Club to their second Challenge Cup lift, dropping down to the competition to beat Premiership side Leicester Tigers in the final.
Irish reached the last eight of the EPCR Challenge Cup last year; with the two most profitable game periods between 11 and 20 minutes and the last 10 minutes of 2021/22 Challenge Cup matches, scoring a competition-high five and nine tries respectively as well as having the most try-scoring possessions from lineouts (16).
The Exiles’ last outing in the Heineken Champions Cup competition came back in the 2011/12 season, beating Racing 92 34-14 away but not qualifying from a pool that also contained Cardiff and Edinburgh Rugby.
Nemani Nadolo remains the French Club’s top try scorer in the tournament down through the years with 11, recently departed Benoit Paillaugue the highest points scorer (169) and second-most appearance maker (36).
The boss- Philippe Saint-André:
Saint-André joined the Club back in 2020 to succeed Vern Cotter as Director of Rugby at Les Cistes, having previously assumed the helm at Premiership sides Gloucester Rugby and Sale Sharks.
He won Sharks’ first league title in 2006, going on to manage French giants Toulon to an EPCR Challenge Cup final appearance in 2010.
The 55-year-old would eventually earn his place as the leader of the French national team, taking the national side to Giuseppe Garibaldi and Trophée des Bicentenaires honours in his four years in Paris.
After Coach Xavier Garbajosa left in early 2021, Saint-André took a more hands-on approach and has since guided Montpellier to their second Challenge Cup and first Top 14 trophy.
One to watch- Zach Mercer:
The Leeds-born 25-year-old moved to Scotland as a child, first getting his taste of rugby with Old Brodleians near Halifax before being integrated into the Glasgow Warriors Academy north of the border.
Joining Bath Rugby in 2015, he spent five years with the Club and earned two caps for England, after leading the under-20s side ten times in his 17 age-grade outings for his country.
The 2017 World Rugby Junior Player of the Year nominee joined Montpellier ahead of the 2021/22 season, making a sizeable impact on the team’s fortunes as the Club won their first league title.
Scoring five tries in domestic and European competition for the French side last year and two this year, the physical prowess of the Englishman will soon be on display in the Premiership after confirming that he is set to join Gloucester Rugby next year.
Speaking at the recent EPCR Season Launch, Montpellier Hérault centre Arthur Vincent outlined his Club’s standing coming into this year’s Heineken Champions Cup.
“We arrive with a lot of humility,” Vincent said.
“We are still small in this competition, the [Heineken] Champions Cup goes faster, hits harder.
“As soon as a match is lost, qualification becomes complicated.
“It’s a very high level in all sectors, close to an international Test.”
Leicester Tigers Interim Head Coach Richard Wigglesworth and Head of Physical Performance Aled Walters will depart the club at the conclusion of the 2022/23 season.
Wigglesworth and Walters will join England Rugby senior men’s coaching team.
Wigglesworth joined Tigers as a player ahead of the 2020/21 season and made 43 appearances for the club, including starting in the 2021/22 Gallagher Premiership Final win, before retiring midway through the current campaign when he was appointed to the Interim Head Coach role.
Walters joined the club in the summer of 2020, during the COVID-19 suspended 2019/20 season, from the World Cup winning South African coaching team after previous roles with Munster, ACT Brumbies and Scarlets.
Speaking about Wigglesworth and Walters, Leicester Tigers Chief Executive Officer Andrea Pinchen said: “Richard and Aled have been key figures at the club in recent seasons in very different ways and, while disappointed to be saying farewell to them at season’s end, thank them for their efforts on and off the field at Leicester Tigers.”
“It has been a great privilege to have had both represent and be a part of Leicester Tigers.
“Their professionalism and leadership shone through when we were forced into changes to our coaching team halfway through a season and they took on more responsibilities, which we are grateful to both for and look forward to continuing to have as part of Leicester Tigers for the remainder of this campaign.
“In the same way that we want to see our players be as successful as possible and achieve accolades at all levels the game, we want our coaches and staff to achieve this as well. The appointment of Leicester Tigers coaches to senior international roles is not only a testament to their hard work and ability, but a great badge of honour for this club.
“We wish both of them all the best for the next chapter in their career and, as they have throughout their tenures at Tigers, know that they are fully committed to finishing their time with the club successfully.”
Leicester Tigers has identified a shortlist of replacements and is nearing the conclusion of the interview stage with candidates.
Speaking about the recruitment process, Pinchen said: “As we have stated before now, we began the process of identifying candidates for the Leicester Tigers Head Coach role at the beginning of the current campaign when we felt there was a chance Steve Borthwick would be targeted by the national side.
“That process has been ongoing for a number of months, from which we narrowed down to a shortlist and are nearing the end of the interview process with those candidates. We will be taking the time we feel necessary to get the best possible people in to lead Leicester Tigers from next season into the future.
“Leicester Tigers is not a club that is interested in having a transition period and are firmly focused on ensuring that this club has the very best coaching available to our players to deliver success on the pitch for our supporters, partners and community.”
The club will make no further comment on the process at this time.
Bath Rugby can confirm England international Joe Cokanasiga has committed his future to the club.
The 25-year-old has been in fine form this season, scoring four tries in nine Gallagher Premiership matches to date, and joins Tom Dunn, Will Stuart, Sam Underhill, Cameron Redpath and Ben Spencer in extending his time at The Rec.
“Joe has been excellent for us this season and we’re delighted he will be staying with us,” Head of Rugby Johann van Graan said.
“He has great physical attributes which he uses to great effect, and his offloading ability in contact has provided us with fantastic attacking opportunities.
“He is an exciting player for us and we have no doubt he will continue to be an integral member of our squad.”
Cokanasiga has flourished under van Graan and has had a notable influence in games due to his power and pace.
Since arriving in the West Country, the bulldozing wing has featured over 50 times for the Blue, Black and White whilst also making a significant impact on the international stage.
Debuting in 2018 against Japan, Cokanasiga has scored 12 tries in 14 Test matches, adding to his 21 in Bath colours.
“There are goals I still want to accomplish here,” he said.
“I really want to mark my time at the club by winning trophies; that’s a big ambition of mine.
“A lot of change has taken place over the past few years, but this season I’ve found consistency in my performances. I feel I’ve positively contributed to the club’s progression and I’m excited by what’s to come in the next chapter.”
JOIN JOE AT THE REC FOR OUR REMAINING HOME GAMES!
Bath Rugby return to action on Saturday 18 February against London Irish before hosting Bristol Bears on Friday 24 February.
Exeter Chiefs head to The Rec on Sunday 26 March in our penultimate home outing.
Josh Hodge says he’s ‘over the moon’ to have agreed a new long-term deal with the Exeter Chiefs.
The gifted full-back has pledged his future to the Devon club and believes an exciting period lies ahead for him and everyone at Sandy Park.
Signed in the summer of 2020 from Gallagher Premiership rivals Newcastle Falcons, the 22-year-old has to date made 37 first-team appearances, scoring 39 points in all competitions.
He is seen by many, including Director of Rugby, Rob Baxter, as one of the crown jewels in Exeter’s exciting vision for the future and news that he is staying put for the foreseeable future will be welcomed by everyone connected with the Chiefs.
“To be honest, it wasn’t a hard decision to sign a new contract with this fantastic club,” said Hodge. “Personally, I’m over the moon and I’m looking forward to my future here in the sunny county of Devon.
“There has been a lot of effort, good business decisions and hard work, both in training and on the pitch, to achieve the results the club has achieved in recent years.”
Alongside Hodge, the Chiefs are investing heavily in bringing through their next crop of young talent, such as Dafydd Jenkins, Christ Tshiunza, Marcus Street, Richard Capstick, Sam Maunder, Will Becconsall and Greg Fisilau to name but a few.
“I’m looking forward to working with the team to help the club attain its rightful position towards the top of all the competitions we take part in and justify the efforts of past players and trainers,” added Hodge.
“All the building blocks have been put in place by the board, backroom staff and coaches and it’s up to the team to work tirelessly to put the cherry on the cake and deliver the results the Chiefs and our fans deserve.”
Others within the current Chiefs ranks are expected to confirm they are also extending their stays with the club in the coming days and weeks.