Leicester Tigers hooker Harry Thacker is relishing his side’s grandstand finish to the season as they prepare to face Racing 92 in Sunday’s European Rugby Champion’s Cup semi-final.
Thacker scored a breakaway try for Tigers in their vital East Midlands derby victory over Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens last weekend and will line up in an unchanged XV against Racing at Nottingham’s City Ground.
The 22-year-old has been one of the standout players in Richard Cockerill’s Tigers side in recent weeks and has made ten starts in all competitions this season, with a further ten appearances coming from the bench.
Sunday will only be the young forward’s second start in Europe but Thacker is not daunted by the challenge.
"It is all new for me but with the players we have at the club then you couldn't ask for any better experience around you,” he said.
"It is another step up emotionally and physically. These are the games that the top players come here to play in.
"When you are playing you are only really thinking about that week so it isn't as bad as you would have thought.
“It does take its toll emotionally but the players are able to step it up, re-focus and go again.”
Tigers go into the game on the back of three big wins against Gloucester Rugby, Stade Francais and Saints.
Racing visit the East Midlands sitting in fourth place in the Top 14 but having lost 14-3 to Toulouse last weekend after dispatching French rivals Toulon in a tight and tense Champions Cup quarter-final the week before.
All Black legend Dan Carter starts at fly-half for the visitors but Thacker said Aviva Premiership Rugby’s Tigers will focus on more than just stopping the World Cup-winning Kiwi hero.
"Racing have got some experienced players," he said.
"They have a heavy pack and we know that we have got a challenge. But we are looking forward to it.
“They will want to push this week so we are excited about that and having a battle with them.
"It all starts up front with the set piece battle. That will be it for me, bringing it physically."
Former Ireland and Munster fly-half Ronan O’Gara will be on the sideline for Sunday’s game and ahead of the match the Racing coach compared Carter – who has missed just one place kick from 20 this European campaign – to football great Lionel Messi.
“Dan has contributed a lot but there were building blocks in place even before he arrived," said O'Gara.
“I suppose you have Messi and Ronaldo in the soccer and there's Carter in rugby world. But it's very hard to compare them.
"His ability with or without ball gives us presence, leadership and control.
“But for us it is not based upon one pair of shoulders alone, we have others like Johan Goosen who have done a job there. Other players can fare as well. But he has extraordinary ability.”