Champions Cup: All or nothing in the battle for Europe - George North, Owen Farrell and Chris Robshaw chat before another seismic weekend

Ten matches in just over 24 hours will decide the last eight for this year’s inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Matt Majendie talks to George North of Northampton, Owen Farrell of Saracens and Harlequins’ Chris Robshaw before another potentially seismic weekend of competition

Q | What are your thoughts going into the final round of matches? There are a lot of winner-takes-all games, aren’t there?

A | Chris Robshaw Toulon are the only ones to have cemented their place in the next round so, in terms of that, there’s a huge amount of excitement. There’s 12 teams I think with the potential to go through.

These guys [nodding to Farrell and North] are involved in those kind of [winner-takes-all] games a bit more than ourselves. We’ve got to win ours with a bonus point and hope someone slips up. There’s a chance, an opportunity and for us at Quins we have to focus on ourselves; Castres are never the easiest to go over to in France but it is do-able.

Q | Owen, can you talk about the game this weekend and the challenge of playing a French club: how different is it from playing an English club, for example?

A | Owen Farrell It’s a massive game because it’s to finish top of the group. Clermont have got an unbelievable record at home and they’re a team full of international star players. It’s going to be a tough test.

We’ll have to look at them a bit more as it’s not like we’re playing Northampton or Quins, who we know inside out. We have to look a bit more into it as we’re not as familiar with them. I’ve never played there before.

Q | Have any of the lads that played there three years ago spoken about it?

A | OF They said it’s a brilliant atmosphere. I remember watching that game. Alex Goode nearly scored the best try ever – nearly, anyway. But it was a close game and we’ve played them a few times since then. We’ve had some good results and bad ones and it’s been pretty even along the way. It should be a great game.

Q | It wasn’t very even in that semi-final against them last year, which Saracens won 46-6. Will you be looking back on that as well?

A | OF I’m sure we have a bit but both teams, especially us, have hopefully moved on and they’ve also changed coaches since then. I’m sure they’ve moved on as well.

I think we’ll look at the last four or five games rather than the one we played a year ago and see what we can pick up and make sure that we’re ready.

Q | George, can you give us a view on the Welsh effort in Europe this year? Ospreys and Scarlets go into the final round and there’s no chance for either side. Is that a reflection of funding issues?

A | George North I don’t think Northampton have helped the Ospreys very much [the Saints beat the Welsh side twice]. The squads in Wales aren’t as big and they don’t draw as much of the senior players within the Wales squad, but the Ospreys have been the form team for the Welsh regions. They’ve been doing a lot better this season than in a while.

Q | From the outside it looks as if the French sides have nudged ahead in terms of how well funded they are and they look set to have more home games in the quarter-finals. Do you think the French clubs have moved ahead?

A | CR I think they’re pretty level-pegging. Look at the Bath result, going over to a tough place like Toulouse [and winning 35-18], Wasps going to France and getting a result [44-17 at Castres] – these guys are going to back themselves to go out there and do what needs to be done. Northampton came pretty close [losing 20-11 at Racing Métro]. We know what goes on outside the playing department but, in terms of playing ability, you’d say it’s all pretty level.

Q | Do you see Toulon as capable of establishing a dynasty?

A | CR They look good. You don’t win two European Cups in a row for not being a great side and having great players. They look a formidable side and are developing. It’s up to them to make sure they continue to produce those performances.

Q | How difficult is it to play in such big club games so close to a Six Nations?

A | GN It’s not ideal preparation. Obviously, you want to go in a bit fresher preparing for the bigger games but it’s a double-edged sword – while it’s good to go in fresh, it’s good to know you’ve had a good couple of hard games under your belt to get ready for a campaign like the Six Nations.

Q | Players always say you only think about the next game you’re playing but with Wales-England coming up on Friday week, can you avoid thinking about?

A | GN A lot of boys are still playing for positions, especially Wales and England. I don’t think they can afford to think they’ll be playing on Friday night. The cliché is taking every game as it comes and a lot of boys have to – the boys trying to play themselves into a jersey or keeping that jersey.

CR You can’t have one eye on what’s happening in two weeks’ time. You have to have all your attention to detail and focus.

Q | Conor O’Shea said it might be a blessing for you having those three weeks’ rest with your shoulder injury.

A | CR I feel pretty fresh as I only came back and played two games but you want to get quickly back into it and you don’t want to miss the big games. I feel a little bit fresher, I’m two games back and it feels pretty good.

Q | Saracens have played you at 12 in some games; is that a purely Sarries decision or have England had a say?

A | OF No, that’s just the club. Obviously, Brad Barritt’s been injured for a bit and there’s been a couple of other injuries so I stepped in at 12 as the lads were rested and rotated. It’s a planned thing. Me and Charlie Hodgson rotate at the club and for me to play at 12 to get more game time is ideal for me.

Q | Do you mind playing at 12 or would you rather have the No 10 jersey on?

A | OF I am a 10. I think everybody knows that but I don’t mind playing at 12 if the team is looking for an extra pair of hands and someone that helps control the game. That’s my job and that’s what I do. If that’s what’s wanted by the coach or the team I don’t mind.

Q | Owen, do you feel a lot more into the groove now than you did when first picked by England?

A | OF I was confident even then. I don’t think there was any doubt for me that I was confident. I guess in too many games I made too many errors. I think I’ve put some good games together now, I’m enjoying playing for the club and being involved in some good performances with the team.

Q | And finally, have you seen much of Sam Burgess since his code switch?

A | OF Yeah, I think he’s been sharp. Obviously, he’s a player that’s had a big impact on the game. He’s picked it up, as anyone can expect, but you’d love to see him in that big game this week.

CR I’ve not seen too much of him, but you see the way Bath are developing their team and he’s a big part of that. I’m sure he’ll continue to develop and be even better.

Chris Robshaw, Owen Farrell and George North are BT Sport ambassadors. BT Sport is the only place to watch top live matches from the new European Rugby Champions Cup, European Rugby Challenge Cup and the Aviva Premiership

Comments