Harlequins lock Stephan Lewies is relishing the opportunity to take on his former club when his side travel to Cell C Sharks in the opening round of Heineken Champions Cup Pool A action on Saturday.
The 30-year-old was with the Cell C Sharks between 2014 and 2018, before he joined the Gallagher Premiership outfit in 2019, and is looking forward to locking horns with familiar foes next weekend at Hollywoodbets Kings Park.
“Going back home is going to be an amazing experience for me,” explained Lewies. “Myself and Andre Esterhuizen told the team a lot about South Africa and Durban especially, so going back there and playing on our old ground will be amazing.
“I think getting used to the tropical weather and humidity of 90% will be a big challenge for the team, but hopefully we can overcome that and put out a good performance.”
It’s not just the conditions that Harlequins have got to get used to, as Lewies expects a large crowd for the Heineken Champions Cup contest.
“It’s December, it’s a festive time of year in South Africa, so hopefully they can draw big crowds,” he said. “I think with the Springboks being back and the way we play at Harlequins, people down there love their rugby.”
Flashback to last year's Try of the Season from @Harlequins 🔥
We showed @lewies4 that epic move started by @dannycare and @MarcuSmith10… and he called out Andre Esterhuizen 😂#HeinekenChampionsCup pic.twitter.com/2Ry1LUgxVn
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 4, 2022
South African clubs make their debut in this season’s EPCR competitions and Lewies believes European clubs will soon notice the difference.
“[There will be] a little bit of a different style in play obviously, different culture, different fans,” he said.
“I would think if we look at how much they’ve added to the United Rugby Championship, hopefully they can do the same in this competition. I’m really for the South African teams being a part of it.
“I think it’s the biggest club competition in the world. You get to measure yourself against the best, which is obviously what you want to do as a professional rugby player, and then the contrast of styles and different cultures playing into each other. It just adds to the occasion.”
With four games against Cell C Sharks and Racing 92 on their pool schedule, Lewies is aware just how difficult it will be for Quins to reach the knockout stage this season.
“Our goal is to get further in the competition,” said the South African, whose club made the Round of 16 last season. “It will be tough playing the Cell C Sharks and Racing 92, but I think as soon as you get to a quarter-final, then anything is possible.
“That will be our goal, to get to a quarter or a semi. Then it’s just on the day. In a Heineken Champions Cup you’ll always be up for it.”