Interview: Ugo Monye
31st March 2017
Sports4Bars caught up with Ugo Monye, former England and Harlequins wing turned BT Sport commentator and pundit, to get his thoughts on the current Aviva Premiership campaign which reaches its climax next month and the impending European Champions Cup quarter-finals
2017 has proved to be a fantastic year for rugby fans with the dust now settled on another fine Six Nations championship that saw England winning their second successive title but missing out on another Grand Slam.
But there is plenty more top-class action to come with the knockout stages of the European Champions Cup, the conclusion of the Aviva Premiership season and the small matter of the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand, where the combined home nations team last won a series in 1971.
Having played with distinction for Harlequins, England and the Lions, recently retired winger Ugo Monye is now loving being on the other side of the microphone as a commentator and pundit for BT Sport, where his passion for the sport continues to shine through.
Like the vast majority of rugby fans, Ugo has been delighted by the standard of play he's witnessed this season and believes that the Aviva Premiership has taken a giant leap forward in terms of quality.
“This current season really is the most competitive Aviva Premiership there's ever been,” he says. “If you look at the likes of Newcastle Falcons this season there seems to be a lot of jostling between them and Sale Sharks about who's going to be the top side in the North.
“Newcastle have come on in leaps and bounds and have made a serious investment in next season with a number of international players heading there for the 2017/2018 campaign.
“So you've got the teams at the traditional 'bottom' of the Premiership getting much stronger and if you look at the top, there's not much between those teams. You've got Saracens vying with Wasps who seemingly have an embarrassment of riches, given that at times this season they've dropped an All Black and had a Springbok on the bench.
“Right throughout the Premiership, you've got a huge amount of competition which makes it so exciting. There have been several 'shock' results this season – Wasps losing to Sale Sharks, Saracens losing to Gloucester and Worcester, for example – that it makes it so exciting for us TV commentators.
“We've got to be on our toes as we don't know what results are going to be thrown up on any weekend. It's certainly shaping up to be a thrilling conclusion to the season.”
There were few shocks when it came to Bristol though with the former West Country giant enduring a dismal season which sees them heading for the Championship after just one season.
“I watched Bristol's very first game this season a defeat against Harlequins and immediately called them out as the team to get relegated,” says Ugo. “But they'd been out of the Premiership for seven years and when they finally made it back after such a long time away, they failed to sign any significant international quality players to shore the squad up.
“The Aviva Premiership is so tough that even teams that were in the top four last season have fallen behind because they failed to recruit in the off season so it was obvious that Bristol were going to struggle. Bristol is a great club in a passionate rugby city with a magnificent stadium in Ashton Gate and a good infrastructure, so as a fan of the sport I'm disappointed to see what's happened to them this season.”
As for the upcoming European Champions Cup quarter-finals – Leinster v Wasps, Munster v Toulouse, Saracens v Glasgow Warriors and Clermont-Auvergne v Toulon Ugo points to home advantage being a major factor in which teams will reach the semi-finals.
“The stats will tell you that 75 per cent of European quarter-finals are won by the home side so I don't really see that changing. Clermont finished as top seeds and I thought they were worthy of that. Their final pool game, against Exeter, was as fine a performance as I've seen from a side in Europea. They're the best team never to have won the European Cup so will they rectify that this season?
“It's so difficult to call when you've got a team like Saracens with all their international talent back in the side after the Six Nations. Toulon have plenty of quality players but haven't looked as effective as in previous years. On balance, I don't think I would be betting against Saracens at this stage.”
BT Sport is your home of unmissable live Rugby from the Aviva Premiership, European Champions Cup and European Challenge Cup. Visit btsportbusiness.com for more info.
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