GLASGOW WARRIORS will have no inferiority complex when they open their Champions Cup campaign against Northampton Saints on Friday night.
That they sit second in the United Rugby Championship, are Challenge Cup runners-up and have lost just once at home in almost two years are all reasons for Franco Smith’s side to be optimistic as they prepare to welcome their Premiership opponents to Scotstoun.
Failing to qualify for this competition last season for the first time since 2006-07 was an undoubted blow but it is an absence that has also helped to heighten anticipation ahead of their involvement in Pool C and forthcoming fixtures against Bayonne, Exeter Chiefs and Toulon, the latter a rerun of that Challenge Cup final.
For now all eyes are on the “Battle of Britain” that will open this year’s competition, with Saints bolstered by a weekend victory over Premiership champions, Saracens. Pete Murchie, Glasgow’s defence coach, is aware of the size of the challenge but is eagerly relishing a return to European rugby’s top table.
“It’s given everyone a lift being back in the Champions Cup as it felt weird not being in it last year for the first time in a long time,” he said. “We’ve got quality opposition first up to start with and being in this tournament definitely brings a different feel to the week.
“I’m sure it will bring the best out in the guys and to get a sell-out crowd here would be awesome. We’ve had a pretty good start to the season apart from the weekend defeat [to Munster] which was a bit of a bump in the road.
“The greatest thing about the URC is it’s such a high quality league. You’re getting tested every week with different styles of play which is a definite benefit in Europe.
“The English and French teams just play each other every week and quite often face a similar style whereas we get exposed to different styles. The South Africans play differently to the Welsh, for example. That will help us.
“We see ourselves as at least being equals this weekend and we need to make sure that we put our best game out there. Northampton had a good win at the weekend away to Saracens which is no mean feat. But we feel that if we play to our potential and rise to the challenge of a European game then we can give a strong account of ourselves.”
The only team that Glasgow don’t play from their pool is Munster which might be a good thing given the heavy defeat they suffered at the hands of the URC champions last weekend at Musgrave Park.
Poor discipline left Warriors up against it early on and, although they scored five tries themselves, it left their defence coach with plenty to ponder.
“The start of the game put us in a really difficult position,” admitted Murchie. “We had our first yellow card warning after five minutes and pretty quickly got a yellow card after that. To be fair to Munster, they were very accurate but we can’t start games like, giving them that many inroads.
“They don’t have to do much to get their points, just piggybacked on getting penalty after penalty. Especially away from home refs are human beings. If they make up their minds pretty early that you’re the offending team then it’s pretty hard to change that, especially when there are several thousand Munster supporters letting them know.
“They came with a clear plan around the breakdown, they said as much after the game, that involved pinning us into the ruck. You need players to recognise when it’s on to go at the breakdown and when to leave it. It’s about how we can get help to win turnovers but not give away penalties.”
Glasgow could be boosted this weekend by the return of Huw Jones who has been out with a foot injury since the end of October, although there is less certainty around George Horne’s involvement.
Murchie added: “Huw should be available. Hopefully we’ll get a good week’s training out of him as he’s been back training for a few weeks now and taking contact.
“George is doing well. We’ll see if he’s good enough for this weekend but it’s one of these things you’re not going to take a risk on. He’s progressing well and it will be short-term but whether it’s this week we’ll wait and see.
“Ollie Smith has a dead leg that he struggled to shake off in the Munster game but he should be okay.”