Champions Cup increasingly tough for Premiership clubs – Sharples

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GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11: Charlie Sharples of Gloucester runs in to score their first try during the Heineken Cup Pool Six match between Gloucester and Munster at Kingsholm Stadium on January 11, 2014 in Gloucester, England. (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

“The Heineken Champions Cup is becoming increasingly tough for Premiership clubs” insists Gloucester winger Charlie Sharples as he reflects on a tough campaign that sees the Castres tie end this season’s European campaign. Sharples is looking forward to the game saying it’ll be good to play without pressure as they head into a much needed break for the team. 

Pressure off ahead of Castres

With qualification from the group stages impossible for both sides entering the final round of pool fixtures Charlie Sharples spoke about how the pressure is off and how much Gloucester need the mini break following the game. Sharples saying, ”This season we’ve had our highs and we’ve had our lows and unfortunately now we’re going through one of those low patches coming off the back of three disappointing losses. We’re by no means down and out as we’ve still got loads to play for in the Premiership and are still in a great position there. This rest block has come at a really good time for everyone to refresh both mentally and physically”.

”We’ve got a massive game this weekend over in Castres but the pressure is gone as we can’t progress so it’s a game we can go out and enjoy and get back on track but we’re not playing with any pressure on our backs which is a nice change”.

Qualification slipped through hands following errors

The Premiership’s joint top try scorer is one of the few players in the Gloucester squad to have played in the Champions Cup before and looking back at the disappointment of going at in the pool stages he said, ”It was wide open at one stage following our win down at Exeter and if we were able to back that up at Kingsholm we’d have been in a brilliant position.

”Friday’s result was hugely disappointing but when we went over to Thomond park there were so many positives playing with 14 men and nearly taking the bonus point at the end. I was injured for that game and watched it on TV, and I felt if we’d have stayed at 15 men, we could have caused them a few more problems. We knew it was going to be tough but at the same time we put ourselves in a position to compete and we couldn’t see through.”

Heineken Champions Cup tough for Premiership clubs

When asked if the Champions Cup has become stronger since he last played in it Sharples said, ”It’s a step up from the Challenge cup which we’ve been in for a number of seasons and it’s always been a difficult competition. I don’t think the standard has altered with it but the Premiership standard has gone up as there’s no respite due to the massive intensity playing every week. You go from that into an Irish powerhouse like Munster or the French Top 14 champions you’re going to have a difficult time.”

Too many errors costing Gloucester games

Three heavy defeats in a row has sent disappointment around Kingsholm with Castres away proving to perhaps be a pivotal point in regaining momentum ahead of the break and then into the Premiership. Despite three heavy defeats Sharples insists it’s nothing to do with the game plan saying, ”There’s no issue with our structure because we show when we get it right that we can be great. Sometimes there are individual errors, people will miss tackles and that’s going to happen. It’s just keeping those mistakes to a minimum whether it be a system error or a skill error in terms of dropping the ball and putting pressure on ourselves. The last couple of weeks we’ve had too many of those and it’s made life difficult for us.”

He added, ”The breakdown is an area we’ve struggled in recently and for no real reason as it’s shown that it’s been good for us earlier in the season. Sale gave us a hard time there and it was a kick up the backside for us. The intensity we brought into Welford Road was leaps and bounds above the previous week but we made too many mistakes and were never able to pressurise them.”

Sharples hoping to repeat history

The last time Gloucester played in France for a Champions Cup tie Sharples managed to bag himself a try and he’s hoping to do the same again this weekend. Saying, ”I haven’t played in a French away game in the Champions Cup game for a while, maybe Toulouse in 2013 was my last one so it’ll be nice to get involved.”

The last game he played in was Perpignan in 2014.

Gloucester not too focused on Castres game plan

Despite the lure to look into the opposition Sharples insists that the Cherry and Whites will focus on their own style saying, ”There’s opportunities against the French team but on the flip side they’ll bring their own differences. The way Exeter played with width and throwing the ball around and keeping the ball.

”If you keep the ball against any team the space will open up and maybe that’s something for us to look at but we’ve got our style of play and that does involve putting width on the ball and the main thing for us is keeping hold of the ball and cutting down on the errors we’ve been making. If we do that, we’ll create the space for the wingers.”

Despite the game ending a rather disappointing campaign for Gloucester they can be proud of some of the achievements and performances put in during the ‘Group of death’. An away win to the Chiefs will boost their confidence when they next play the league leaders, Munster at Thomond park showed some bright sparks despite playing without Danny Cipriani for most of the game and a strong show against the French champions in atrocious weather showed they can play the conditions.

Obvious disappointment will greet Cherry and Whites fans at their early exit but there are many positives to come from this campaign.

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