Steve Borthwick believes a return to Europe’s top competition is another step forward for Leicester Tigers.
The Leicester Head Coach will make his debut appearance in the top-job at Tigers away to Bordeaux Bégles on Saturday afternoon, having only led the club in the Challenge Cup during his tenure at the club.
Speaking at the club’s Oval Park training base, as the club prepares for the Heineken Champions Cup campaign, Borthwick said: “There was a long time when this club were not involved in big games, or perceived as big games, or were in big games for the wrong reasons.
“From my point of view, we want to be playing against good teams, week in week out, and playing a top French team away from home is a big test for us as a group.”
In two European campaigns to date, Borthwick led the side to a semi-final and second-placed finish in the Challenge Cup, which he believes have helped this current crop of Tigers “grow” as a group.
“If you look at some of the experiences we had through that, a young team went to Bayonne and were the first Tigers team to win in France for seven years,” he said.
“Look at when we played Connacht at Mattioli Woods Welford Road, at the end of the game six of the eight forwards on the field were aged 21 or under.
“Then think about the big occasion of the Final against Montpelier at Twickenham Stadium; there were some players here who may have been thinking they would never play in a final again.
“It enabled us to grow our collective experience to move forward as a team.”
Borthwick also discussed the club’s form to date this season in the Gallagher Premiership and Premiership Rugby Cup, pinpointing a stronger depth throughout the squad and improved understanding of one another on the pitch.
“For me, having combinations is important rather than a strong starting fifteen,” said Borthwick.
“I have been here 18 months and, in that short time, we have had 39 players make their Leicester Tigers debut.
“There is a lot of evidence about how many games you should have together to develop and understanding and we still have some way to go … but are starting to see combinations develop and an understanding of how we want to play.”
Borthwick played for club and country in the hostile environment of France and understands the challenge playing against big French packs, expansive backlines and passionate crowds.
Those French crowds generate a special atmosphere,” he said.
“We are blessed with our own unique, incredible atmosphere at Mattioli Woods Welford Road but even watching Bordeaux and Toulouse at the weekend, you see the heat in that atmosphere, it’s electric.”
Borthwick will name the matchday squad to travel to Bordeaux at 12.00pm on Friday, December 10.