Gloucester Rugby lock Alex Craig labelled the Heineken Champions Cup “the best club competition in the world” as the Gallagher Premiership side prepared to return to EPCR’s elite tournament after a one-season absence.

The 25-year-old Scot believes there’s something about the Heineken Champions Cup that makes its matches unique and a tournament every player dreams of taking part in.

“It’s very exciting and obviously where every player wants to play,” he said. “It’s the best club competition in the world, as you’re playing against the best players in the world. It’s a great place where you want to test yourself.

“It’s just got that extra special feel about it. I think everyone’s always very excited when it comes to Heineken Champions Cup week.”

Gloucester host Union Bordeaux-Bègles on Saturday in their opening Pool A match and will be hoping that this is the year they can surpass their best previous showing in the competition, a run to the semi-finals in 2000-01. If they are to do so, Craig believes the crowd at Kingsholm will have a major influence.

“It is always massive,” Craig said of the home support. “It’s always like our 16th man. The Shed, I’m sure, will be very up for that game [against Bordeaux]. I think there’s that extra special touch.”

With the level of rugby being played in the Heineken Champions Cup at an all-time high, he is under no illusions that the Cherry and Whites will have to step up a gear.

“You can always get better in all areas, really,” Craig admitted. “You’re never really the finished article – we always have that emphasis in training. We’re always trying to strive to get better.

“You have to be fully on your game if you want to get a result in Europe.”