TIME FOR SOME EX FACTOR TROUBLE FRENCH CHAMPS A
Blues know defeat like 2015 will leave them in soapy water but Leo’s learnt lots since then
Exeter Gloucester Pool 2, Sandy Park, KO 1pm
v HENRY SLADE admits Exeter have not yet lived up to Brian O’driscoll’s billing in Europe.
Lions legend O’driscoll installed Chiefs as tournament favourites with Leinster and Saracens.
But a third of the way through the pool stages Exeter have yet to win a game - and host Gloucester today knowing they can’t afford another blank.
“It’s been very frustrating,” admitted Slade, England’s firstchoice outside-centre. “We set ourselves a goal of wanting to do really well, of really attacking Europe and we feel we’ve sold ourselves a little bit short.
“It’s not yet do or die as there’s still plenty of points to be had but we know how important it is to get a win this weekend, especially being at home as well.”
Exeter are bottom of Pool 2 having started with a home draw with Munster and an away loss to Castres.
Last week they lost at Harlequins, their first league defeat of the campaign.
Chiefs are targeting an improvement in their breakdown work against a Gloucester side which welcomes back Matt Banahan, Tom Hudson and Henry Trinder and gives a full debut to hooker Jaco Visagie.
Bath Leinster Pool 1, The Rec 3.15pm
v IT’S three years since Leinster last rolled up to The Rec but it feels like a lifetime ago.
Leo Cullen’s reign was in its infancy and, while European debutant Josh van der Flier’s try levelled up the contest, George Ford’s penalty four minutes from time delivered the Blues a second successive defeat in their pool.
They went on to crash out before the knockout stages.
“I can’t remember how he was that exact day, a bit angrier I’d say but he’s smilier now,” said Rhys
Ruddock who earns his 150th cap for the province today.
“To be captained by Leo through pretty much all my career and now to be coached by him is obviously a massive honour and a special thing.
“To see him and the team go from days like that to the success of last year has been special to be a part of.”
Cullen last season made history by becoming the first man to win the competition as both a player and a head coach.
But if his champions lose on Bath’s heavy pitch this afternoon, it will be their second pool defeat on the spin – just like three years ago.
“It was only six or seven games in at that point,” said Cullen of 2015’s 19-16 loss.
It formed part of a difficult start to his tenure after he reluctantly succeeded Matt O’connor so early into his coaching career.
But he added: “It takes a while to change and you guys (the media) aren’t that patient sometimes, you expect it straight away. It takes a bit longer.
“We lost to Wasps pretty heavily the week before, I remember that well. The last seven or eight minutes of the game, there were a few things we didn’t manage well.
“I look back on that Wasps game a lot of the time and how we could have done things better. “But the group is so different now, it’s in a very, very different place.”
Cullen believes what happened in the previous round this season – a 28-27 loss at resurgent Toulouse – was not a return to old ways. He added: “I don’t think so. It’s not the same. I don’t like to say the word ‘blip’ but anyway, the future will decide where it sits.
“There were definitely things in that game we can be better at for sure. They’re some of the things we’re going after.”
Fit-again Dan Leavy starts for only the fourth time in the No.8 slot.
“He’s good to go and confident he can do a good job,” said Cullen. BATH LEINSTER TV TIMES: Live on BT Sport 2 from 3pm
Pool 2, Thomond Park, tomorrow, 1pm
v FOR once this Castres team deserves to be respected on the road.
Traditionally they have been cannon fodder for the Irish provinces at home in Europe.
But Munster rightly don’t see it that way this week.
Out of their 25 away games in the Champions Cup over the past decade, Castres have won just once - a three-point victory in Glasgow five years ago.
When they pitched up in Thomond Park last season, Munster dished out a 48-3 hammering, the latest in a line of sorry defeats for the visitors.
They have suffered seven losses away to Irish opposition in the competition to date.
But Castres beat the odds by winning the Top 14 title last term and although they’re only in seventh place in their domestic league this season, they have been targeting European progress.
A bonus point defeat at Gloucester was backed up by a thrilling win over Exeter, despite being down to 14 men. “You don’t
COMMANDER IN CHIEFS Henry Slade BACKING Legend Brian O’driscoll tipped Exeter