WASPS captain Chris Bell says anyone banking on a fickle French away performance from Stade Francais this weekend should think again.
French teams are notoriously bad travellers, but Bell believes that is changing and he expects a Stade team bulging with international talent to bring their best game to Wycombe in the first of the two-legged European play-off on Sunday.
He said: “That myth is slowly being shaken off. Toulon have travelled pretty well in Europe this year and some of the other sides have as well.
“That’s going out of their game and Stade have so much quality and strength in depth that they have the ability to rotate and rest players. They’re a European powerhouse and are well known throughout Europe. We’re expecting a strong and motivated Stade Francais team.”
For both clubs, the play-off is an unexpected bonus after finishing seventh in their respective leagues but they are no less significant because of that, with the prize for the winners a place in next season’s elite European competition.
Bell said: “These games are really big. It’s almost finals rugby. It’s about what competition we play in next season and there are a lot of ambitious players at Wasps who want to go further and play against the big teams.
“Neither club made the top six so it’s a second chance for both of us. One will be quite happy and one not so much after these two games, but we’ve got to make sure we turn up and bring how we play rugby to the table.
“We’re very mindful of Stade and what threats they bring and we’ll try and diffuse those. They’ve got patterns and systems as a team which we’ll look at, and also they’ve got some fantastic individual players so you need to have a little bit more focus on them.
“ We’ve done some analysis and will ramp that up as the week goes on. But the aim is to win both games so we’re going to try and focus on ourselves. We’re conscious of how we want to play and we want to take that onto the field and pick up a win on Sunday and then go to France and do the same thing.
“They’re two very tough games and it’s a unique concept. Not many players have played in games like this and every point does matter and every minute matters, but if you win both games then the points doesn’t make a difference.
“We’re looking forward to it. One of our aims this season was to get back into Europe and this gives us an opportunity to do so.”