Moment of Heineken Cup truth for Bath

A lot can happen in rugby in the space of just a year – as Bath Rugby scrum half and former club captain Michael Claassens is the first to admit as they prepare to meet defending champions Leinster in their back-to-back Pool 3 matches kicking-off at the Recreation Ground on Sunday.

The 1998 Heineken Cup champions lost their opening match of this campaign at Glasgow Warriors but kept their hopes alive with a dramatic 16-13 home win over Montpellier.

“After two games last year we were already almost as good as out of the tournament,” said Claassens, looking back at the impact of the home defeat by Biarritz Olympique.

“If you don’t win your home games you will be on the way out of the tournament – and you need to get at least a losing bonus point away from home as well.

“This time our Pool is very open as there is two points between us and Leinster, a point between us and Glasgow Warriors and Montpellier are close as well.

“All four teams in our group still have a shout of going through. The main thing for us is to make sure we beat Leinster in the next game. If we can get a win against them at home everything will really open up and it will be a massive game against them away the following week.

“It is definitely a boost having them at home first – it does make a difference. I don’t know if it’s mental or what, but it’s always easier playing at home with your own fans behind you.

“However, Leinster are very consistent. Every week they give themselves a chance of winning the game so we’ll have to be at our best. They were champions last season and that speaks for itself. They’re a class outfit and they’ve got so many Irish internationals in their squad.

“It’s a massive opportunity for us, though. We haven’t been as consistent as we’d like so far this season and when you get a chance to play against one of the best teams in Europe it’s a chance to prove yourselves. We’ve got nothing to lose and it could be a springboard.

“If we win that game, the whole pool will look different.

“And it’s definitely a game everyone is looking forward to. Anyone who plays rugby wants to play against the best teams in the world. You always seem to get yourselves up for those games – you don’t need any extra motivation.”

“We’re not playing as well as we know we can play and we want to make sure we do better. If we weren’t good enough, it would be different – that’s why it’s frustrating.

“But I don’t think we’re far off and the first 30 minutes or so against Montpellier were our best 30 minutes of the season so far. We played well and everyone knew exactly what to do.

“I thought after that game that we were getting back to the way we like to play and heading towards where we want to be and while defeat to Worcester wasn’t good it is all about the little things.

“We’ve played well in parts but in some games our breakdown hasn’t been good enough, for instance, and in the next game it might be the line-out. We haven’t put a full performance together yet – we haven’t done it for 80.

“When you start winning, you start building momentum and things become so much easier. At the moment, we’re winning one game then losing one, winning one, then losing one. That’s not the way we want to play. As soon as you start winning two or three games in a row your confidence grows and you play so much better.

“If you look at the quality of the players we’ve got in the squad, we’ve got a good enough squad to challenge for silverware but we can’t focus that far ahead.”

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