Premiership Rugby

Five Takeaways For Premiership Teams In The Investec Champions Cup

Five Takeaways For Premiership Teams In The Investec Champions Cup

Gallagher Premiership rugby teams have performed exceptionally well in the Investec Champions Cup; here are five takeaways from the opening two rounds.

Dec 20, 2023
Five Takeaways For Premiership Teams In The Investec Champions Cup

It has been a blistering few weeks for the eight Premiership teams competing in the Champions Cup. Against the odds, they managed to come out the block firing, putting their URC and Top 14 counterparts to shame.

There’s obviously still a long way to go in the competition, but if the opening rounds are anything to go off, the future months may hold something special for the English teams involved.

So, what have the first two rounds taught us about them?

Premiership Rules The Roost

Few would have given the Premiership contingent much of a chance heading into this season’s Champions Cup and yet, amid all the noise of declining attendance, limited finances and players moving abroad, the English sides have been shining.

They had an overall win percentage of 75% across the first two rounds, which is staggering, given that the URC mustered a mediocre win percentage of 38%, while the Top 14 managed a measly 31%.

Furthermore, Exeter Chiefs, Leicester Tigers, Bath and Northampton Saints all remain unbeaten, having won both home and away over the last two weekends. 

It’s an almost imperceptible state of affairs; is it a sign of things to come?

Many have tipped Toulouse, Leinster and La Rochelle to once again be at the forefront of the trophy hunt, however, it may be time to start adding a few names from the Premiership into that esteemed group.

The Kids Are All Right

The big talking point heading into Round 2 was the controversial squad selections some teams made. 

The Bristol Bears, Sale Sharks and Leicester all put out significantly weakened starting XVs and even gave some academy boys a runout.

The decision sparked widespread criticism and acted as yet another reminder of how little the Champions Cup group stage is reviled amongst the European elite.

That being said, those three English sides still managed to put on strong showings, despite all the negative noise.

The baby Tigers were the most successful, picking up an unlikely win on the road in Paris against Stade Francais, while Sale put in a valiant performance against Leinster. The Mancunian side was even leading at the break but ran out of steam in the second half.

Bristol was not as profligate, though it did face a red-hot Bordeaux side and still managed to keep the score respectable, which is an achievement in itself.

And so, for all the criticism, the kids actually did al lright.

Bath Ready To Go The Distance

The arrival of Finn Russell was always going to inject a bit of energy into Bath, but even the most positive commentator wouldn't have foreseen what’s playing out in real-time in the West Country - Bath is near the peak of the Premiership table and remains unbeaten in Europe.

Their opening win against Ulster was a calling-card performance, showcasing all the finely tuned cogs harmoniously working within the team. 

Russell, with the support of his midfield magicians Cameron Redpath and Ollie Lawrence, is consistently finding holes in opposing defenses, while the team as a whole is dominating the contact zone. 

Lawrence has made 13 dominant carries in the competition so far, more than any other player, closely followed by his back-row teammate Alfie Barbeary, who has 12.

That physicality, paired with the attacking grit Russell, makes Bath a real dark horse in the competition. So far, they haven’t put a foot wrong.

Last-Minute Drama 

Not only did Premiership teams pick up wins over the past two weekends, they often did so in the final minutes of matches.

The Leicester Tigers and Harlequins both withstood torrents of pressure in the final seconds of their games in Paris to beat Stade Francais and Racing, respectively.

The Bristol Bears managed to topple Lyon following Callum Sheedy’s match-winning drop goal with the clock in the red.

Top 14 high-flier Toulon twice was given a dressing down by English opposition, first by the Exeter Chiefs, thanks to Henry Slade’s last-gasp conversion, and then a week later by the Northampton Saints, following Tom Lockett’s try in the corner, three minutes from time.

So far, Premiership sides have shown they have the bottle to weather late pressure and emerge victorious when a game is hanging in the balance – a skill that will prove vital in the latter stages of the competition.

Ready For The Road 

Traveling abroad for an away game is never an easy adjustment, especially for English sides that are not accustomed to traveling such distances. 

That should make Champions Cup away days a hindrance, and yet, the Premiership sides have adapted well, acquiring a 63% win rate on the road.

Much like the ability to clinch victory late, winning away from home is a useful tool to have in the back pocket when the knockouts come around.