Exeter Chiefs will be banking on some inside knowledge when they bid to keep their Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final qualification hopes burning brightly in their Round 5 clash with Bourgoin at Sandy Park on Saturday night.
French-born utility back Nic Sestaret is the player who can give the tournament newcomers the low down on their visitors – and not just the Round 5 contest coming up as they then travel to Montpellier for what could be the Pool 3 decider.
Montpellier head the group on 13 points with the Chiefs snapping at their heels on 11 points thanks to wins over Bourgoin and Newcastle Falcons plus banking what could prove to be invaluable losing bonus points against both Montpellier and at Newcastle Falcons.
And the Chiefs have made fans across Europe sit up and take notice of the new boys in no uncertain manner – thanks to the Amlin Challenge Cup.
“All rugby people in France now know about Exeter because of the Amlin Challenge Cup – it has been just massive putting the club on the European rugby map,” said Sestaret, who started out with the Toulouse Academy and went on to play for Toulouse, Pau, Dax and Plymouth Albion before settling down at Exeter where he is in his third season.
“There is now an awareness of a club from Devon going into the top flight in England and into Europe and that has been brilliant for the players.
“Now we have a must win game on Saturday – no-one is mentioning or even thinking about Montpellier in Round 6 yet because we still have to face Bourgoin and they will come with some anger at both their position in Top 14 and the deduction of five points last week.
“Our only focus is to try and win the game and hopefully do that in front of a big crowd as it will certainly be a great forward battle.
“It will be a major challenge for us as they will be out to make a big impact to take back into the Top 14. It is going to be very exciting – I think they will come with the spirit to win the game – and they always have very good flankers and No 8 while at half back Mickael Forest controls the game so well.
“There have been some extremely exciting times for the Chiefs this season – perhaps no more so than when we went to Bourgoin in Round 2 as there was such big expectation on what we could do.
“Winning there was a great achievement. We do have some players who have taken part in the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup with previous clubs but for those for whom Europe is a new experience it has been huge.
“And perhaps that is particularly true about playing against French teams, with players experiencing different styles of play and the like.
“Traditionally French clubs are very strong at home while maybe a little less strong away from home so when you play them on their home ground you know you are in for a great fight – and often a very long Saturday – as they simply hate to lose at home.
“So when we won in Bourgoin it really was something special – especially as it was on our first trip to France – but we also accept it was only a short term achievement and we have to build on that result.
“As soon as we came back we set new targets, to carry on growing as a force both at home and in Europe, we must keep improving.
“Our main strength is our team spirit – we have no big names and everyone works for everyone else. We are a very close group of players, we know each other well and enjoy fighting for each other.”