Johan Ackermann relishing first shot at Champions Cup rugby

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 03: Johan Ackermann, the Gloucester head coach, faces the media at the European Launch of the Gallagher Premiership Rugby clubs at St James' Park on October 3, 2018 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Gloucester take on Castres in their first Champions Cup game for nearly five years this Sunday at Kingsholm. Despite their recent European form of two consecutive Challenge Cup finals and two losses head coach Johan Ackermann is in good spirits about their tough battle ahead. 

Excitement at Kingsholm ahead of Castres clash

Johan Ackermann insists ”There’s a lot of excitement from those who are going to be involved in the competition for the first time. It’s a new challenge, there’s not a lot of room for error and it’s great for the club to play against these top teams in one of the best competitions in world rugby.”

Talking about his memories growing up and watching the tournament to then his time at Northampton, he said ”It’s something that you always regret if you don’t get a chance to play in it, unfortunately when I was with Northampton I wasn’t registered.  The club has waited a long time to play in this competition and we’ve got the responsibility to make it work”.

Ackermann relishing challenge as home games prove vital

Despite only looking one game ahead at a time, Ackermann revealed that he sees home games as the pivotal time in the cup. ”Everybody says if you want a shot you have to win your home games and it’s a bonus if you win away. The reality is there’s a massive challenge this week against a quality side who aren’t [French] champions for nothing.”

”Starting at home is a great privilege.”

No room for error

Gloucester’s journey to Bilbao last year in the Challenge Cup wasn’t flawless, losing two games in their group. Ackermann understands that can’t happen this year, ”There was room for error in that competition. We lost at home and went on to beat Zebre, we don’t have that luxury this season.”

Gloucester know that if they are too progress further through the competition then they’ll need to start putting together 80 minute performances. ”We’ve shown that if we are playing the best sides we can’t have anything less than this and we have to take the swings in the match.

These guys have been here before. If you’re playing the likes of Exeter and Munster and they’ve been in playoffs and finals so they know how to handle that pressure. For us we can’t be less off the pace than we were the other day.”

Tough mental and physical battle lies ahead

Despite Ackermann’s men heading into the match against reigning Top14 champions Castres he isn’t looking too much at their recent form. ”You cant read too much into it. The four games they’ve won were against top sides. They did the hard route last year, winning away from home. I’ve heard they’ve got a great camaraderie between each other, they’re traditionally big and strong boys.

We’ve got the team, obviously we’re running a bit thin with injuries, but if we can play our best team I trust we won’t just make up numbers and give teams a run for their money. Like anything it’ll take some adjustment to get used to the intensity.

I can imagine how tough it’s going to be mentally. Teams will have different goals, Exeter will go all out in Europe because they’ve done everything in the Premiership. We will play to win and be the best we can and even if we change the squad it’ll be a platform to put his name out there.

We’re definitely going full guns as we’ve got nothing to lose. If we play with the same physical presence and same accuracy as we did Saturday then we can give a good account of ourselves.”

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