Q&A: Bordeaux boss Urios speaks ahead of big Saints clash

Ahead of Friday's Champions Cup opener at Franklin's Gardens, tournament organisers EPCR have released a Q&A with Bordeaux-Bègles director of rugby Christophe Urios.

By Tom Vickers
Tuesday, 8th December 2020, 7:00 am
Christophe Urios
Christophe Urios

Here's what was said...

Q: So, Christophe, you were Challenge Cup semi-finalists last season, and you’re back for this Champions Cup campaign. What lessons did you learn from last season? That is, from the great victories – against Edinburgh, for example – and even the loss in the semi-final to the champions, Bristol Bears?

A: “What lessons can we learn? Well, firstly, it was an unusual season, particularly the knockout stage, which took place at the start of our season. So, it wasn’t easy to prepare.

“As for the different lessons we learned, well, we know that, as always, the Champions Cup is quite a short competition in terms of its format, even more so this year.

“So, every point will count, and it’ll be important to have a good start to the competition. Our first match will be against Saints, and it’ll be an important one for us. Beyond that, we know that every point counts and we need to be prepared for every match – all the more so given this new, shorter format.

"Every point will count, even if it’s a try-scoring bonus or a losing bonus. Every point will be important. That’s what we learned last season, though that was no surprise. We already knew that. As for the knockout stage, we obviously have many regrets about the match against Bristol.

“We felt that we very well could have won before overtime, but we didn’t manage to score, especially in the last 10 minutes. It was an incredible experience, though, in an incredible competition that we wanted to win.

“But that just gives us more drive, conviction and strength to attack the Champions Cup, despite the level not being the same.”

Q: What are your aims for the Champions Cup this season?

A: “With this format, which we know is very short, we obviously simply want to qualify.

"We still don’t know much about our opponents at the moment because, as you know, our leagues didn’t resume at the same time.

“We’re already on our 10th game (in France), but they’ve only played three (in England).

"We don’t know much; we haven’t studied them much yet. We know that, once again, every match is going to be important. But on the whole, we want to qualify, yes.”

Q: Your first match will be the first of the tournament this season and it’ll be a big one against Saints, who reached the Champions Cup quarter-final last season. What do you expect from that great challenge?

A: "It’s always the same; it’ll be an outdoor match on a Friday evening. We’ll have a short week because we have played on Saturday, too, a big match against Racing, so we’ll have to prepare well. We’re very aware that Champions Cup matches are on another level to Challenge Cup matches. We also know that the pace is different from our Top 14.

“It’ll probably be a much-anticipated match, and a high-intensity, fast-paced one. We experienced that last year in Bristol and even at home against Edinburgh, too. So we’re really going to need to go into this competition in a different frame of mind.

“As I said earlier, every match will count, so we’re going to have to prepare as best we can for a game against a team that we don’t know very well because, ultimately, they’ve only played three matches so far.

Q: Your second match, then, will be at home against Dragons, who were also Challenge Cup quarter-finalists last season. What might you expect of the match against this Welsh side?

A: "Obviously, that’ll depend greatly on what happens in the first match, but regardless of the first match, it’s clear that if we want to qualify, which we do, we’re going to have to beat the Welsh team at home. We know they’re an adventurous team; they have a remarkable back row – it’s the Welsh back row.

"There’s very little movement in the team, and that’s why they made it to the quarter-final last year. That shows the quality of the team. Again, even more so than Northampton, this is a team that’ll play very freely, with a lot of movement. So, we’re going to have to be ready for that match."

Q: As you’ve already mentioned, there’s a new format for the Champions Cup this season: three clubs per pool and four matches for each club. Will this new format mean you’ll adapt your approach this season?

A: "We will see. I don’t really know. But probably, more than last year, or more than in previous years, each match will be supremely important, and every point will be important.

"I have to say I’m personally very excited about this new format, because it’s short. And in our championship, which is very long, and in a season that’s been unusual because of Covid, here we’re lucky to have an extremely short format, which is more of a sprint.

"It’s true that it’s always exciting for a group and club to prepare for matches like this, because they’re high-level affairs. Also, you basically have one shot, so you can’t be slow off the mark."

Q: And for you as a coach, how is it different in terms of style of rugby, playing style, and preparation for a European cup match, compared with the championship?

A: "We know very well that matches in the Champions Cup, especially compared with the Top 14, are much more sought-after. They’re matches with a little more intensity; they’re matches in which rucks are refereed differently. We’ve experienced it ourselves this year against Bristol (in the semi-final of the 2020 Challenge Cup) and Edinburgh (in the quarter-final of the 2020 Challenge Cup). They’re completely different matches.

"They’re matches you have to prepare well for. For us, well, although we’ve of course been preparing for our Top 14 matches, we’ve been training for these matches for two weeks now so that we are physically up to the task.

"We already started a fortnight ago, and this’ll be our third week, plus the week when we play Northampton. These’ll be weeks that are a little different with regard to our preparation, that is, with more momentum, with a little more rhythm to them...more intensity than you can drum up in regular weeks, just so we’re capable of being up to the task.

Q: What is your first memory of the Champions Cup?

A: "As a coach, for me, the memories that come to mind, especially as a coach, because as a player it’s different, are the clashes with Munster.

"I don’t know why, but when I was at Castres, almost every year we had Munster in the pool stage. Coming up against Munster was a real learning curve.

Q: Can you explain what qualities you think you need to win the tournament?

A: "Resilience. You need to be resilient."

Q: And the final question for today. For you, what is it that makes this tournament so special?

A: "There’s an element of discovery to it, even if now, when you’re doing it every year, you get to know the teams a little bit. But there’s an element of discovery with regard to those teams you don’t know about – or don’t know much about – and to changing personnel. You often come across the best groups of personnel in Europe, and you come across the best teams in Europe with big-name players. So, what’s fantastic is that confrontation. Coming up against European rugby players is what really excites us. It gives us a break from the everyday and we’re keen to express ourselves and make a mark, too.

"We can’t wait to get going, and especially to kick off that first match next week against Northampton."