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Tig Blog

Euro run plays its part in big picture

Toulon and Tigers, two names synonymous with European Cup rugby, with five wins and eight final appearances between them.

This Saturday the duo meet in the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup, having missed out of qualification for the Champions Cup in their domestic season.

The coals of non-qualification have been kicked over, but at the very least the situation shows that nothing is permanent in sport – which should be seen as a good thing with the news that supporters will have to stay away from their favourite venues for a while longer.

Last year’s Challenge Cup line-up included Clermont Auvergne, arguably the biggest name to never actually win its big brother tournament, and Northampton Saints.

Recent entrants also include Toulouse, Stade Francais, Ospreys, Montpellier, Sale Sharks and Cardiff Blues.

Exeter Chiefs were still in the second-string event in 2014/15, when they lost in the semi-final to Premiership rivals Gloucester.

The last four contenders in this year’s Challenge Cup – Bristol Bears and Bordeaux-Bègles make up the other half of the draw – all hope a run to this stage can act as a springboard for more.

In Tigers’ case, that has meant qualifying for the knockout stages with five wins from six games while also providing some European rugby experience away from the Champions Cup glare to some of the young players on the books. The win away to Cardiff Blues especially stands out as an example, as well as the battling performance to take a losing bonus point in Pau which eventually proved to be the difference between a home draw in the last eight and a trip elsewhere.

The squad is now adding a flavour of knockout rugby to that European experience, which is why it is such a shame that last Sunday’s scheduled quarter-final did not go ahead as planned, with a handful of the team yet to make their club debuts in the competition because of the unique circumstances around this elongated season.

Having a taste of European nights in places like Cardiff and Toulon, testing yourself in tricky conditions in Calvisano and digging out that vital solitary point in Pau – after going 14 points down in the opening few minutes of the game don’t forget – as well as going to the Stade Felix Mayol this weekend as underdogs can do no harm in the development of the squad as a whole.

Ben and Tom Youngs, Dan Cole and a few others have been there and had the T-shirt in previous years, but for the younger core – including Tommy Reffell, Ben White, Freddie Steward and Zack Henry – on whom there is so much expectation for the longer term, he longer this campaign lasts, the more beneficial it can be. For them and everyone around them.