London Welsh second row Kirill Kulemin may be hoping for the perfect birthday present with a win against Stade Francais on Saturday, but he knows better than most the Exiles will be up against it.
Kulemin, who joined Welsh in the summer after four seasons in the Top 14 at Castres, turns 32 on the day head coach Lyn Jones leads his men into Europe for the first time against the two-time Heineken Cup finalists.
The big Russian second row, capped 12 times by his country, has featured in all six of London Welsh’s opening Premiership fixtures, including last Sunday’s narrow 28-23 defeat to Saracens.
Kulemin spent four seasons at Agen before joining Castres in 2008 and amassed 23 appearances in the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup during his eight years in France.
And he is relishing the chance to lock horns with Stade once again.
“If we win it will be a good present for my birthday. Maybe I’ll have an opportunity to score – I will try to do my best,” said Kulemin.
“They’re a good team; they’ve got a good scrum and lineout.
“I hope it’s going to be an entertaining match and I’m also expecting it to be fast. We’ll be looking to play hard in the forwards, try to improve in the scrum and put a lot of pressure on in the lineout.
“Castres was good; we played in the quarter-finals of the Top 14 three years in a row and that was a good experience. I really enjoyed it.
“The Top 14 is quite different to the Premiership. In France it’s much more open, more passes, because the weather is different.
“In the Premiership there’s more forwards play, more pick and go.
“But the Premiership is a tough league; all teams are at the same level.
“It’s not like that in France where you have four or five teams that win all the time.”