Why Premiership clubs face a Champions Cup reality check

Bristol have been drawn against Sale Sharks which guarantees a Premiership quarter-finalist. Alex Sanderson, the latter’s rugby director, was unable to retain Faf de Klerk and Lood de Jager for next season. This week he pointed out that Exeter have found something special to beat Racing 92 in 2020.

“When you go to the Champions Cup and you play big games, they tend to be decided by your most talented and experienced players,” Sanderson said.

“There might be a bit of distance if you look at the teams on paper. Exeter won it two years ago. They don’t have the budget that the French club has, now or then. But there’s something about this group that has come together really well, it’s been really well trained and supported to overcome that team sheet of galacticos. There is something in there.

For Premiership teams to perceive Europe, a team must therefore be as good as the sum of its parts. “The only way we can compete going forward is through structure, support around the players and really good coaching, which we’re starting to see,” Sanderson continued.

“I don’t put myself in that bracket, but there are a few. My head says the gap will widen. My heart says f— we just need to coach better and be better as a team.

Champions Cup round of 16 standings

After a group stage marred by fixture cancellations and travel chaos, the Champions Cup Round of 16 is upon us. We start with an intriguing home-and-away game in the last 16.

But where could teams rank in a table? This scale is based on European pedigree, national form, experience of big occasions and star quality. All of this should show us which teams have the potential to lift the trophy later this season.


Domestic form: Dominating despite losing to Ulster in mid-March and leading the United Rugby Championship.

Knockout record over the past three seasons: P13 W10 L3 (excluding bye against Toulon last season). Defeats to Saracens and La Rochelle followed a similar pattern, with Leinster wilting under kicking pressure and ball-carrying power.

Trophies over the past three seasons: 3 (Pro14 2019, 2020, 2021)

Game breaker: Where to start? There are influential Irish players everywhere. That said, the loss of Andrew Porter raises fears that they could be overwhelmed again.


Domestic form: Part of Top 14 chasing pack but comes back fifth and, naturally, less convincing without Antoine Dupont.

Knockout record over the past three seasons: P12 W10, L2. The European setbacks gave way to a golden period.

Trophies over the past three seasons: 3 (Top 14 2019, 2021; Champions Cup 2021)

Game breaker: Toulouse brought several Grand Slams, from Julien Marchand and Cyril Baille on the front line to Dupont and Romain Ntamack via François Cros and Anthony Jelonch. Cheslin Kolbe’s move to Toulon deprives them of a star striker.

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