SOMEONE in the squad mentioned last year “we have to be ready for these big French packs” and it does pretty much always start up front against teams like Bordeaux-Begles.

This fixture does bring back memories from a few years ago where I was slightly surprised to be yellow-carded for ‘hitting a ruck too hard’ by my best mate Marius Mitrea.

Their locks were two of the biggest forwards that I’ve seen, up there with the Montpellier pair from the semi-final in 2016, and you certainly have to be well conditioned to go up against these boys.

That being said, we have always stood up to these giants of club rugby when travelling across the channel.

The size of the challenge means that we’re usually underdogs when going over there but we’ve relished that tag in Europe.

Some of our best performances have come in these situations when there is a release of pressure, and hopefully it will be the same again tomorrow, even though it’s hardly ideal to be down to the bare bones.

The amount of fit players that are registered for the Challenge Cup means that selection has been relatively easy for the coaches but the boys that have been picked will head to Bordeaux with the aim of playing attacking rugby.

That’s the style of rugby that has served us well in victory at Stade Francais and Pau, as well as in Castres, when we could and maybe should have won.

We can also take heart from the determined effort against a star-studded Montpellier on their own patch.

We’ll have a similar strategy in Bordeaux and we know that we have to start well and stop them building confidence in front of their expectant fans.

Top 14 sides can almost play with a bit of French arrogance when they are on song, with the ability to both bully sides and outplay them.

We’ve got to take it to them, whether through a driving lineout or through Fiji style (or dare I say Scarlets style) offloading, because my experience in this tournament is that French sides can lose confidence quite quickly.

In Paris, Pau and Castres it was a case of attack being the best form of defence and we need to show that intent to play.

French teams tend to defend differently to those in the PRO14, they are a lot more passive rather than putting pressure on with quick line speed.

That means you have more time to play and we need to be confrontational and take the ball to the line.

It’s interesting to see these differences in defensive systems because I’ve started working with the Dragons Under-18s along with head coach Matt O’Brien, the Newport fly-half, and forwards coach Sam Hobbs.

I’m in a defence and contact area role and these days everyone in the PRO14 tends to have that line speed, something Shaun Edwards made an impression with as a coach of our national team.

That blitz defence has changed a bit over the years and now teams like the Ospreys, who were experts at the all-out blitz, come at you with a solid wall, putting you under pressure.

I think it’s good for regional players to be involved with age-grade rugby. Not only does it encourage youngsters to understand the game better but also helps us as players to see how the ‘other side’ works.

The under-16s will benefit from coach Rhys Buckley as he passes some of the knowledge and methods that we are using with the Dragons down to the future generations so that the transition to the senior team is a less daunting experience.

Taine Basham and Dan Babos, who both started against the Scarlets in the PRO14 last week, could have been playing for the Under-18s against the Scarlets in Ystrad Mynach on Wednesday.

It’s hard for coaches to be without players but at the same time it’s great to see individuals making the transition at higher levels, just like I saw when I coached Elliot Dee, Ollie Griffiths and Hallam Amos a few years back.

It is nice to be able to help some of the next generation with the Under-18s while I continue to rehab with the aim of making a comeback from injury next month.

Fingers crossed the boys can do a job in Bordeaux this weekend then do it again in Newport to give those of us that are nearing a return a quarter-final to aim for.