Select Edition

Northern Northern
Southern Southern
World World

The silver lining to English club struggles in the Champions Cup

By Alex Shaw
An array of promising young English club talent will feature in this weekend's Champions Cup

Trending on RugbyPass

More News More News

No one wants to see the English clubs giving up on the Heineken Champions Cup with two rounds to go, but the silver lining to the struggles faced by Bath, Harlequins and Sale Sharks in this season’s competition is an array of opportunities for their young guns.


Heavily rotated line-ups may not appeal to fans who have forked out considerable sums of money to attend game or secure their broadcast subscriptions, but it does provide an important rugby opportunity for younger members of squads.

Not only will they be testing themselves against senior competition, they will be doing it in a brighter spotlight than the Gallagher Premiership can provide.

Gloucester’s Louis Rees-Zammit has already shown this season what opportunity can mean for a young player’s career and while he is a standout talent that was ready for those moments, something which is not true of every player at 18 years of age, that doesn’t mean others aren’t similarly ready to make their mark on the biggest of club stages.

For Bath, who have lost four from four so far in the competition and whose qualification hopes realistically went out the window after round two, the opportunity comes for wing Gabriel Hamer-Webb.

(Continue reading below…)

Video Spacer

The former Beechen Cliff student began to make an impact for Bath at the beginning of the season when Anthony Watson, Joe Cokanasiga and Ruaridh McConnochie were all away with England at the World Cup.

He can now consolidate those early impressive performances before Bath’s star backs head off for the Six Nations next month. His speed, power and attacking instincts all looked sharp in those initial tests and far from out of place among the physical specimens of senior rugby.

He’s not alone, either, as punchy back rower Nahum Merigan and versatile back Tom de Glanville both take up spots on Bath’s bench, as well as former Yorkshire Carnegie academy pair Max Green and Ollie Fox taking on the starting and bench scrum-half responsibilities respectively.


It’s been a challenging start to Stuart Hooper’s fledgling career as a director of dugby and if some of the club’s young guns can step up against Harlequins and put down markers for selection moving forward, it gives the former lock some welcome dilemmas.

Speaking of Harlequins, they have also given the nod to a number of newer faces, with BUCS Super Rugby product Luke Northmore starting at 13, Dino Lamb getting a rare outing in the second row and mobile hooker Jack Musk slotted in on the bench.

Harlequins boss Paul Gustard will be hoping that Northmore can have a similar impact to fellow Cardiff Met graduate Alex Dombrandt, while Lamb and Musk can stake claims in positions that have been hit hard by injuries. Quins have opted not to rotate too heavily, however, as they search hard for some fresh momentum in the Premiership.

Sale have found space for exciting wing Tom Roebuck in the starting XV, with the powerful ball-carrier having impressed previously in the under18s. The England age-grade international is ready to show that he can emulate the likes of Rees-Zammit and Hamer-Webb and excel at this level.

With La Rochelle fielding a strong side at Stade Marcel Deflandre, Roebuck will find himself up against Arthur Retiere, Levani Botia, Geoffrey Doumayrou and Jeremy Sinzelle in the French side’s backline in what is an appetising test of his ability.

On the bench, there are spots for back rower Sam Dugdale, scrum-half Gus Warr and full-back Joe Carpenter. Given the strength of Sale’s options in the back row and at half-back – and that’s not even counting Ben Curry among the latter – this is welcome playing time for Dugdale and Warr, while Carpenter was one of the standout players in the Under-18 Academy League for Yorkshire last season.

Sale secured a coup with his signing earlier this season and, for Carpenter, there is at least a more traversable path to the first XV over the next couple of seasons.

It’s a mark of Rees-Zammit’s impact that even in the very strong Gloucester XV selected to take on Montpellier, he retains his spot on the right wing alongside the duo of Jason Woodward and Ollie Thorley in the back three. Ultimately, this is the approach everyone would like to have, one or two youngsters bedded in among a cadre of regular starters, with qualification still possible and significant repercussions riding on the final result.

It’s an approach that Saracens have perfected in England of late, albeit with that reputation now being somewhat tarnished. The reigning European champions have also rotated their squad heavily this weekend. That said, with qualification still very possible, that seems more to be a comment on their opponents, the Ospreys, than it does on their attitude to the Champions Cup.

Elliott Obatoyinbo starts at full-back while fast-rising fly-half Manu Vunipola occupies the No10 jersey. The bench is stacked with promising youngsters, too, as Joel Kpoku, Sean Reffell, Rotimi Segun and Ali Crossdale all feature.

If Saracens can storm the Liberty Stadium with no Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Jamie George or either of the Vunipola brothers in the squad, it will be the perfect fillip for the club who will not only keep alive their hopes of a Champions Cup quarter-final, but also provide them with momentum in their battle to move up the Premiership table.

Unsurprisingly, Exeter Chiefs have selected a strong side as they seek to battle Leinster for the No1 overall seeding and Northampton Saints, after harrowing back-to-back defeats against Leinster, seek to push for a best runners-up spot. Their hunts for qualification are compelling enough without also needing to see rugby’s next generation being blooded.

However, if the inability of English sides – outside of Saracens and Exeter – to be consistently competitive at the European level is a frustration, it’s one that at least provides this silver lining. Teams can’t permanently be in a state of rebuild, though if that is currently where they are, you want to see these opportunities being given to the younger players who can learn and develop from the experience.

WATCH: RugbyPass travelled to Brecon to see how life after rugby is treating Andy Powell

Video Spacer


Join free and tell us what you really think!

Join Free
TRENDING What an overhauled Tonga team could look like at the Pacific Nations Cup What the new Tonga team could look like