The Ospreys have qualified for the last three Heineken Cup quarter-finals – now new captain Alun Wyn Jones wants the club to go at least another step further towards the northern hemisphere’s most coveted club trophy.
All three defeats have been on the road, at Saracens, Munster and Biarritz Olympique, to underline the value of home advantage at the business end of the tournament.
The Welsh region are up against Toulon, London Irish and former double champions Munster in Pool 3 with a trip to tournament newcomers but big spenders Toulon the initial challenge at Stade Felix-Mayol on Saturday.
“We do seem to have a bit of a reputation for being in tough groups but that is not such a bad thing,” said the British & Irish Lions and Wales lock.
“Our performances have grown steadily in recent seasons and we have qualified for the knock-out stages in the last three tournaments.
“We know only to well that we are once again in another competitive group but you just have to look at last season when Biarritz Olympique got to the final – and were unfortunate to lose – and we were just a point away from beating them and going through to the semi-finals instead of them.
“It is often the case that teams who get through from the tougher and more competitive Pools are the ones you see in the last four and that is where you want to be for a shout of winning the cup.
“Hopefully it is going to be our time soon and we will get the big Heineken Cup breakthrough and once we get to a semi-final anything can happen.
“Our last Heineken Cup match was against a French team and we start this tournament against French opposition in what I am sure will be another formidable French atmosphere.
“Hopefully we can do the business down there and get off to a flyer.”
Toulon went close to a European title themselves last season, going down 28-21 to Cardiff Blues in a thunderous Amlin Challenge Cup final in Marseille with the Ospreys set on making it a double dose of misery for Philippe Saint-Andre’s cosmopolitan team.
“Knowing that another Welsh side has been out to the south of France and played a good brand of winning rugby, and that at the tail end of the season, is certainly encouraging and I hope we can emulate them and get a good start.
“It is inevitable that as a fly half and world class player Jonny Wilkinson is at the heart of almost everything they do and he is certainly going to push their ambitions in the Heineken Cup. We accept it is going to be a tough ask and he is going to be a key man for them.
“As well as Toulon, London Irish are playing a good brand of rugby and top of the Premiership and so, with Toulon also riding high in the Top 14, we are playing two sides in the opening two rounds who are both doing extremely well domestically.
“In a Pool like this one it would seem likely that only one will go through and three will probably see their Heineken Cup journeys coming to an end so hopefully we will be the ones going through to the quarter-finals.
“Having the final at the Millennium Stadium next May is definitely a big carrot for all the Welsh regions – it would be extra special going there with your domestic side on such a huge occasion as a Heineken Cup final, it would be absolutely amazing.”