Australian legend George Smith will get a taste of Champions Cup next season after agreeing a switch from Lyon to Wasps.
The 34-year-old flank, part of the Wallabies side that beat the British & Irish Lions in 2001 and reached the 2003 World Cup final, retired from international rugby with 111 caps after 1 final appearance against the Lions in 2013.
He played for the Brumbies for 11 years before switching to Europe and then Japan. He played for Toulon in the old Heineken Cup in 2010 / 2011, helping them reach the quarterfinals, and the following season played for Stade Francais Paris in the Challenge Cup, reaching the semifinals.
He made 24 appearances for Lyon last season, but couldn’t stop them from losing their Top 14 status. He will join a Wasps team that retained its Champions Cup place and will get his 1st taste of Premiership rugby, battling for a place with James Haskell, Ashley Johnson, Nathan Hughes, Guy Thompson, Sam Jones and Thomas Young.
With 3 of the 4 quarterfinals taking place on french soil, and all 3 of those against English opposition it could feel somewhat like the Hundred year war for the Premiership sides.
In the only non Anglo-French encounter, Bath travel to Leinster while the remaining fixtures sees Clermont Auvergne take on Premiership table-toppers Northampton Saints, Racing Metro will play last year’s finalists Saracens, and finally champions Toulon will face Wasps.
The record books show that in 72 quarterfinal encounters in Europe’s top flight, 54 have been won by the home club – a staggering 75% success rate for those sides on home soil.
Premiership clubs make up half the Champions Cup quarterfinalists, although all have to play away from home.
English teams have a 20% success rate away from home in the tournament, winning only 4 times in 20 quarterfinal games to date.
For the 9 away matches against French opposition, the success rate is as low as 11%, with only 1 win – Northampton Saints’ 7 / 6 victory over Biarritz Olympique in San Sebastian in 2007.
The only other English away victories in the last 8 have been Leicester Tigers over Leinster Rugby at Lansdowne Road in 2005, Bath at Leicester in 2006 and Saracens against Ulster at Kingspan Stadium last season.
The 3 French clubs in the Champions Cup quarterfinals have never lost at home in the last 8 of Europe’s top flight.
Toulon and Clermont have won home quarterfinals in the past 2 seasons, while Racing Metro have reached the knockout stage for the 1st time in their history.
The odds are definitely stacked against the English clubs, but that does not mean that any of the French teams will take them lightly.
Jake White’s Montpellier bounced back from their comprehensive loss away from home to Glasgow Warriors last week by beating fellow French team Toulouse in their final European Rugby Champions Pool 4 match on Sunday. Montpellier won a closely contested match by the narrowest of margins with a final score of 27 / 26 in their favour.
This victory for Montpellier meant that Saracens qualified for the last eight of the Cup in spite of losing their last Pool 1 match against pool winners Clermont Auvergne. The score in that match Clermont Auvergne 18 / 6 Saracens.
The 5 pool winners along with the 3 best second placed team advanced and Saracens made it through as the last qualifying with the lowest amount of points from their 6 matches (17). Had Toulouse won they would have qualified as Pool 4 winners along with Bath who won their Pool 4 match against Glasgow Warriors. Toulouse also ended the pool stage on 17 points but Saracens got through via a superior points difference, +14 versus Toulouse’s +2.
Wasps have set the standard and now they must recreate it, says director of rugby Dai Young after watching his side battle to a 20-16 victory over reigning Aviva Premiership Rugby champions Northampton Saints.
A low-scoring first half saw the sides locked at 3-3 going into the break but tries from Ashley Johnson and Tom Varndell meant Ben Foden’s late score for Northampton was nothing more than consolation
And after their heartbreaking 34-28 loss to Saracens at Twickenham in last weekend’s opener, Young admitted he was delighted with Wasps’ response at Adams Park.
With the new English domestic season kicking off on Friday, we take a look at the prospects of each of the 12 clubs competing for the Premiership title. Let’s get started.
The pioneers of modern English rugby, Saracens have established themselves as one of Europe’s leading teams over the last few years.
Making three Premiership Finals in the last five years along with contesting Europe’s showpiece last season underlines their rise to the top of the game. Unafraid to experiment off the field, 2013/2014 saw Saracens revolutionise their play on it by throwing off the shackles and producing attacking rugby that was hard to resist. More of the same please.
Alapati Leiua has decided to swap the gold of the Hurricanes for the gold of the Wasps as another high profile player exits the southern hemisphere.
Leiua, a Samoan international who can play centre and wing, has been a standout for the Wellington side in this years Super Rugby campaign.
Scotland international Ruaridh Jackson is set to join Wasps next season after being told he is free to leave Glasgow Warriors.
The 23-times capped No 10 has been offered a lucrative deal to sign for the Aviva Premiership outfit, who are chasing a place in the European Cup next season.
British and Irish Lions hooker Richard Hibbard and Wales flyhalf Rhys Priestland have joined the exodus of Wales players leaving the Welsh regions and joined the growing contingent of Wales internationals playing in England.
Lions hooker Hibbard has agreed to join Gloucester at the end of this season while Scarlets pivot Priestland has agreed to move to Wasps.
The second round of Aviva Premiership games take places this weekend and while it may only be Round Two, Saracens have laid down an early marker in the 2012/13 Premiership season.