Harlequins suffered heartbreak in last season’s European Rugby Challenge Cup final but new director of rugby John Kingston is adamant that has only made them all the hungrier to taste continental success this year, writes Jack Miller.
Quins impressed en route to the final last May but suffered a 26-19 defeat to Montpellier in Lyon as outgoing director of rugby Conor O’Shea was narrowly denied a fairytale send-off.
Former head coach Kingston has since replaced O’Shea and is focused on going one better than his predecessor by delivering a fourth Challenge Cup title this time around.
And the former Cambridge University student is already relishing the unique challenge that European rugby provides.
“Like any club, we love the European challenge,” explained Kingston.
“The Premiership is brilliant but you get to that time of the year where you want something slightly different and it’s a completely different challenge, cross-country and cross-border.
“You get a chance to mix with teams you’re not used to playing week-in and week-out, so it’s very exciting.
“Last year’s Challenge Cup seems a little while ago now but the one thing that sticks in my mind is that you get nothing for second.
“We’re not used to that – we get to finals and we tend to win them. But we didn’t in Lyon and it was a changing room that was hurting very badly afterwards.
“We wanted to win silverware – that’s what you’re in the game for – and to get so close, but not do it is the main abiding memory.
“We’ll try to use that as a means of taking it forward. We’d like to be in the Champions Cup but if we can’t be then we’ve got another chance in a cup we know very well and have had great success in.”
This year’s European Rugby Challenge Cup sees Harlequins placed in Pool Five with Stade Francais, Edinburgh and Timisoara Saracens of Romania.
Quins kick off the entire competition at the Twickenham Stoop against Stade Francais next Thursday night and Kingston admits the competition will certainly provide a test for his troops.
“Starting with Stade Francais and Edinburgh – who are really top-drawer teams – is incredibly tough,” added Kingston.
“We start the whole competition off down at the Stoop on the Thursday night and Stade Francais certainly evokes unbelievable memories of Quins games against them in previous times.
“Edinburgh we haven’t played recently, so that’s going to be an exciting England-Scotland battle.
“Then we go to Romania for a back-to-back in December. I’ve been to Romania, but goodness knows how long ago.
“We’ll have to do our homework and make sure we’re ready for that as well. It’s an exciting competition and it’s an exciting group for us.”
*European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) is the organiser of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the European Rugby Challenge Cup and the Challenge Cup Qualifying Competition. Follow all the excitement of another thrilling season of European action at epcrugby.com