Stade Français Paris may be four points clear at the top of Pool 1 but Worcester Warriors coach Richard Hill is adamant that Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final qualification will go right down to the wire when they go head-to-head at Stade Charlety on Saturday night.
The French club won the Round 1 match at Sixways Stadium 23-14 but the home side outscored them 2-1 in tries and it really is right in the melting pot with calculators sure to be at the ready.
“It is as good as winner takes all for both sides and everything to play for,” said Hill
“It was a disappointment when we lost the first game against Stade Français because we had a very good start against them, found ourselves 14-0 ahead and then they just dug in and ground their way back into the game.
“To give credit to Stade it proved what a quality team they are – that they have the ability to do that – and we lost the game.
“We have been on the back foot in the Amlin Challenge Cup since that result but we have done everything we had to do to get to the final game of the competition and still be in with a chance of qualification.
“We go to Paris, with a lot of Warriors supporters making the trip, knowing what we have to do. First and foremost we have to win the match and deny them a losing bonus point.
“That would put us level on 24 points each and, despite losing the first game, we outscored them 2-1 in tries. The side who finishes top of the Pool makes the quarter-finals and there is no runners-up spot and no leeway at all now in this new format.
“It puts a whole new emphasis on what you need to do to be successful and both sides have got to the final game needing a win to qualify.”
The Warriors went within touching distance of European glory in 2008 when they were beaten 24-16 by Bath Rugby in the tournament final and now they have another shot for silverware.
“It’s always about the front five when you play French sides so we have to really compete at the set-piece and at forward in general,” said Hill.
“We managed to do that in the first game until we lost our prop Oliver Tomaszczyk, who was having a good battle with Rodrigo Roncero, and we have to do the same again in Paris.
“Ironically, since their victory over us at Sixways in the first game, they have found some really good form in the Top 14 and also in this tournament.
“They are what I would describe as a team of individual talent and have some of the best players in the world, but we are all about the collective value of our team.
“We are also a very different team from the one they faced at the start of this European campaign. We were very focused on our defence, because we had just been promoted to the Premiership, and know it was the key to a successful season.
“We had brought in Phil Larder and really worked hard on improving that aspect of our game but now, in the second half of the season, we have really tried to add some strategy to our attacking play.
“I have to pay tribute to the attitude of my players towards the Amlin Challenge Cup.
“Everybody knows that, having been promoted back to the Premiership, it had to be our focus but the players have really wanted to make an impression in this tournament and they have a chance to really do that in Paris.”
“We go to Paris, with a lot of Warriors supporters making the trip, knowing what we have to do. First and foremost we have to win the match and deny them a losing bonus point…"