London Irish lock Rob Simmons believes the key to his club making a success of their return to the Heineken Champions Cup is to “get some points on the board” as they prepare to host Montpellier Hérault Rugby in this season’s opener on Friday.
The Gallagher Premiership side face a quartet of games against Montpellier and DHL Stormers in Pool B, and Simmons emphasised the importance of starting the competition on the front foot.
“The important thing is to start the competition well,” said the Australian international. “We’ve only got two teams, four games and you’re playing each other twice. To start the campaign well is very important. Get some points on the board.”
That will be no easy feat against Montpellier, who won the TOP 14 title last season, but Simmons is looking forward to the challenge.
“I think it will be exciting,” said the 33-year-old of the Friday night game at the Gtech Community Stadium. “Both teams like to play a good brand of rugby.
“Looking at Montpellier, they won the TOP 14 last year, so they clearly know what they’re doing. They’ll have their challenges and we’ll have our threats too, so we’ll look at capitalising and starting the competition well.”
Simmons is looking for one particular ingredient from his team to make Irish’s return to EPCR’s elite competition a successful one.
“Consistency,” he stressed. “That’s why the top teams are the top teams. They’re performing week in, week out through a long season.
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“The finals aren’t until the end of the season, so you’ve got to be able to push on through different competitions and be there performing at the end, and that’s a challenge for every club.”
Irish last competed in EPCR’s premier club competition back in 2011-12 and Simmons, who has six EPCR Challenge Cup appearances to his name, is excited at taking on the best of Europe and South Africa this season.
“It’s huge,” he commented. “To have been out of that and now be seeded at the top table of the top teams is a real challenge.
“It’s more than one competition – it’s three competitions coming together and the top teams playing against each other, so it creates a stand-alone competition.
“That’s exciting that you see these top-performing teams from different countries coming together to have a real clash of the titans.
“As rugby players, we enjoy challenging ourselves and we get to challenge ourselves against some top, top teams. The club and the fans enjoy that, seeing some really good footy played in the meantime.”
After welcoming Montpellier, Irish will make the trip to the DHL Stadium in Cape Town to take on the DHL Stormers and Simmons believes the introduction of South African sides will provide a ‘whole other element’ to the Heineken Champions Cup.
“It will take it up a level,” explained Simmons. “Each country in each competition develops their own way of playing and discovers what is winning rugby against the opposition they come up against.
“They’re a whole other element and they’ve previously played in a different competition, so they’re bringing the way they know into another competition and performing well, so they’re really opening up different avenues of how to play the game.”