The Ospreys begin their European campaign tonight in the Challenge Cup and will include a man who knows his way to the final. Former England cap Stephen Myler tells Steffan Thomas why and how he thinks his new team can enable him to make it a hat-trick of final appearances.
Stephen Myler has vowed to earn European success with the Ospreys this season – and repeat two of the highlights of his distinguished career.
Back 2014 the England international kicked 20 points as Northampton Saints clinched the European Challenge Cup with a dramatic win over Bath in Cardiff.
Six years on and Wales is now home for the 36-year-old outside-half who is about to embark on his 14th season of European club rugby with the Ospreys.
Myler is hoping to lift the Challenge Cup for a third time, but this time with a Welsh region who begin their campaign with a home clash with Castres which is live on S4C on Saturday.
“I’ve got really good memories of this competition because I’ve won it twice with Saints,” said Myler.
“There’s something extra special about European rugby because it poses a different challenge to domestic competition.
“We’ve got some young boys in our squad as well, so it’s like a new thing for them. It tests you in a different way against different players.
“The holy grail would be for the Ospreys to play in the Champions Cup, but the Challenge Cup provided me with some of the best moments of my career, especially when Saints beat Bath in the final in Cardiff a few years back.
“It would be great to try and do something similar with the Ospreys.”
The Challenge Cup will take on a new format this season, with 14 teams in one group allowing sides to be split into two tiers.
This means the top sides in tier one will only have tier two opponents. Overall, the top eight sides after four pool matches will join the eight teams dropping from the Heineken Champions Cup.
— Saturday RugbyChat (@Rugby_Chat) December 22, 2016
Traditionally, French clubs have rarely prioritised away fixtures in this competition and with Saturday’s opponents languishing down in 12th place in the Top 14 that could be the case with Castres.
But Myler knows all too well how physically demanding French sides can be with his first Challenge Cup title coming 11 years ago when he kicked all 15 points for Northampton against Bourgoin in the final, won by 15-3 at The Stoop.
Despite winning comfortably, a brutal brawl broke out with former France scrum-half Morgan Parra and Ireland’s Neil Best sent to the sin bin for throwing punches.
While rugby has cleaned up since then, Myler has warned his side not to underestimate the challenge Castres will pose.
“Yes, that was a tough evening against Bourgoin but luckily we survived and got a win,” he said.
— Ospreys (@ospreys) December 11, 2020
“I’ve also played against Castres numerous times in my career and let me tell you there’s never an easy game against them.
“Even when I’ve ended up on the winning side, we’ve left the field battered and bruised while I have never beaten them in France.
“It is therefore vitally important we start this competition with a victory against them because it will be very tough out there.
“They are a big French team who like to get momentum and they’ve got some quality players. If you let their pack get on top and get momentum then they’ve got the players behind the scrum to exploit you.
“Yes, they are currently struggling in the Top14, but I’ve been in sides previously who have struggled domestically and have used the Challenge Cup as an opportunity to get some momentum back into their season.
“So if we don’t bring our A game, we’ll lose. It’s as simple as that.”
La Banque Populaire Occitane vous présente la composition du CO pour le déplacement aux @ospreys ! ⚡
— Castres Olympique (@CastresRugby) December 11, 2020
Despite nearing the end of his playing career Myler has been one of the most consistent performers for the Ospreys this season.
With Wales playmaker Gareth Anscombe facing another season on the sidelines, new Ospreys head coach Toby Booth turned to elder statesman Myler who was looking for a new contract after leaving London Irish.
The former rugby league man is loving life on the Swansea coast and has been hugely impressed with the quality of player coming through the Ospreys academy.
He said: “I knew when I signed the Ospreys would be without some of their senior internationals for most of the season, so part of my remit is to help mentor some of the young guys.
“I can honestly say the future of the Ospreys is in good hands. I’ve been hugely impressed with the likes of Josh Thomas, Kieran Williams, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler, Harri Morgan and Reuben Morgan-Williams.
“Hopefully, my experience can rub off on them but I’m really enjoying my time in Swansea and hopefully we can challenge strongly towards the end of the season.”
S4C – Saturday: 19:45pm – Live coverage of the European Rugby Challenge Cup match between the Ospreys and Castres, from the Liberty Stadium.
English commentary available. K/O 8.00.