QUALIFICATION ALONE IS JUST NOT ENOUGH
THE HONOUR of Heineken Cup rugby must not be enough for Gloucester, calls Akapusi Qera.
The thunderous Fijian flanker believes the Cherry and Whites fully merit their return to top-tier European rugby this term.
But the 29-year-old loose-forward has warned Gloucester cannot fall into the trap of believing qualification was the hard part.
The Suva-born back-rower has called on the Kingsholm men to raise their game to new heights this season – to cope with the extra demands of the Heineken Cup and mount a serious Premiership title challenge.
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Gloucester will start their return to Europe's top table by hosting Perpignan at Kingsholm on Saturday, October 12 (6pm).
The prospect of Qera going head-to-head with former Gloucester teammates and fellow back-rowers Luke Narraway and Alasdair Strokosch is sure to whet Cherry and Whites appetites for the Heineken Cup kick-off.
But Qera is urging his Kingsholm peers not to allow any distractions to derail their trophy charge in Nigel Davies' second season at the Gloucester helm.
Qera has been a Kingsholm fixture since his arrival from Pertemps Bees in 2007.
The wrecking-ball tackler admits he has loved every minute of his time at the club – but concedes he had hoped for more silverware.
The Fiji international's sole Gloucester title remains the 2011 LV=Cup, and he is dead-set on altering that this term.
Qera said the excitement that filtered through Kingsholm when Gloucester secured Heineken Cup qualification in April must now be channelled into relentless preparation.
He explained: "In the build-up to the last game of last season, the Exeter game, some of the senior players were joking about the big teams we could draw in the Heineken Cup and what that would be like.
"We were laughing it out thinking about playing teams likes Clermont and Toulouse.
"Making the competition brought a big level of excitement to everyone at the club, and so it should.
"But we must be extremely serious about the competition now.
"Even though we are there and we are excited to be, we need to lift our standards again this year.
"The Heineken Cup is a different level altogether.
"For us to be there is an honour, but we still need to work hard if we want to get the rewards from the competition that we're looking for.
"We have made good progress under Nigel in the first year, but there's still a long way to go to be where we want.
"And the only way to get there is through hard work."
Gloucester's Pool Six schedule switches from hosting Perpignan in round one to making the testing trip to Thomond Park to take on Munster a week later.
The draw was confirmed earlier this week, with Kingsholm rugby director Davies admitting a home victory in the first match will be crucial.
The former Wales centre believes Munster are favourites to win the pool, but is also confident his side can overturn the weight of history and expectation.
The six pool winners and the two best-performing runners-up will comprise the quarter-finals, and Gloucester's December double-header with Edinburgh could prove the crux of their chances.
Davies' men will entertain Munster at home in round five, before the Perpignan trip completes the pool schedule on the third weekend of January.