Luke Watson will lead Bath Rugby out to face Biarritz Olympique at The Recreation Ground on Sunday as something of a Heineken Cup novice – but singing the praises of the six-nations club tournament that the West Country giants won back in 1998.
The South African international No 8 arrived at Bath during last season, playing in their final four Heineken Cup matches.
“The Heineken Cup is the most prestigious club competition in world rugby,” he said. “Of course, the Super 14 is up there too but I would have to reach the final of the Heineken Cup to tell you about the quality although it is probably very close.
“I played eight Super 14 seasons and only half of a Heineken Cup season so it’s difficult for me to compare the two but the sheer excitement is probably more international than Super 14.
“I never made a Super 14 final. We narrowly missed out on the semi-finals but it’s a highly competitive competition that has been dominated by certain sides – which is pretty similar to the Heineken Cup.
“The Heineken Cup is so strong that it does not matter which Pool you are in. They are all tough and for some reasons you will complain and for other reasons you will be glad.
“Playing Biarritz Olympique first up will be a tough ask of the lads. But it will be a fair reflection of where we are as a side. If you want to reach the latter stages, you have to beat some good sides and it will be a real indication for us.”
Bath Rugby are one of an elite group of just three clubs to have won both the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup – in 1998 and 2008 respectively – with London Wasps and Northampton Saints the others to have achieved the Euro double.
In addition to 2010 Heineken Cup finalists Biarritz Olympique, Bath will be up against 1999 champions Ulster Rugby and Italian newcomers Aironi Rugby as they bid to put a forgettable campaign last time, when they lost five of their Pool matches, firmly behind them.
“I love the Heineken Cup and I am excited as an outsider coming into the competition,” said Watson. “I really enjoy the hype, the vibe and excitement created around it. It’s awesome to have a tournament where there are different styles, teams and patterns of play.
“There are different countries and players from different countries all brought into one. It symbolises global rugby and I like that. It is both a high standard of rugby and also exciting.
“As for my own experiences of the Heineken Cup I played in just a few games last season and at the time Bath were battling to find some form.
“I had only landed in Bath just a week or two before that and we had one or two key injuries – it was not a happy time for the club.
“However, we are confident this is a new start. We have improved as a side, we have a talented group of players and depth in certain positions.
“We have to translate that onto the field. We have started the Premiership pretty well and if we can carry that form into the Heineken Cup, and also develop and progress, then I am confident we will be competitive.”