UNLIKE Danny Wilson, who at least gave the impression of believing that he would be back with Glasgow Warriors next season, Rob Harley knew straight after Saturday’s crushing defeat to Leinster in Dublin that his time with the club was up.
The 31-year-old back-five forward, who accumulated a record 267 appearances (54 more than second-place Ryan Wilson) during his 12 years at the club, was informed that his contract wasn’t being renewed back in March. He had hoped that Saturday’s URC play-off quarter-final clash would not be his swan-song, that a surprise win would extend the season for at least one more week which would have given him a chance to wave goodbye to the Scotstoun faithful, but by half time it was already clear that that wasn’t going to happen.
So, when the end came, it was in circumstances unworthy of the huge contribution he had made to the club since his debut – against Leinster, funnily enough – back in September 2010 (even if he must shoulder some personal responsibility for what transpired along with all the other players involved).
Based on his overall contribution, Harley really ought to have left the pitch for that final time as a Warriors player with the acclimation of grateful supporters ringing in his ears, but instead he disappeared almost unnoticed after being replaced by Lewis Bean in the 55th minute of the Dublin debacle, while those Warriors fans who made it to the RDS Arena slumped their heads into their hands and contemplated how much worse the 47-7 score-line was going to get.
“That’s definitely not how I wanted to go out in the Glasgow shirt,” he acknowledged afterwards. “I can reflect with a lot of pride and a lot of happiness overall on my time here, but this definitely hurts and will for a while. I think the rest of the team feels the same.
“To be honest, the build-up was very in line with normal match-day nerves for me – nothing out of the ordinary – but then when we were huddled at the end and I thought: ‘This is my last time playing for Glasgow!’ That was quite emotional. That really hit me.
Given his imminent departure, there doesn’t seem like much point looking back at what exactly went wrong against Leinster, but it is telling that Harley continues to discuss his involvement with the club in the present tense. His allegiance can’t be turned off like a tap.
“In my time here, we’ve had these rough patches, and we’ve definitely had games where we’ve been smashed,” Harley replies when asked if he has any departing words of advice to his erstwhile team-mates. “It is a real chance to take lessons from it.
“As we all look at ourselves well see that there is a lot of improvements to be made, individually and as a team, so I think it gives us that impetus to come together and say: ‘Right, we’ve done a lot wrong but here’s where I can improve and here’s where we can all improve’.
“We had a couple of yellow cards and that’s from guys pushing the boundaries and going beyond which has cost us,” he continues. “So, the lesson there is that we’ve got to play on the edge and be aggressive, but it’s also about being smart and trusting the systems.
“We’re compounding errors, like when Richie Gray was off [in the sin-bin], I made a call to change the line-out D [defence] and Leinster took advantage of that to score straight away, so that is a bad decision I made under pressure and it has cost us seven points.
“There were quite a few instances like that where we’ve had a few good phases of D but then someone has stepped up wanting to make a big hit and Leinster have got the skills to punish you – if you come out the line then they will put guys in that hole and be away before you know it.
“So, it’s about being honest with ourselves, then getting to work. The season is over but we’re in next week so we’ll get a little bit done then, and then it is about coming in next season fired up to fix things.
“As I say, I’ve been at this club 12 years and we’ve had these lows before, and every time we have had these experiences before we’ve responded and bounced back. I believe this team has the character to do that again.
“Everyone is hurting and that’s why we’ll get better. Because we know we represent the city of Glasgow when we’re out there and it is on us to fix the things that went wrong and come back stronger.”
As for his own future, if Harley has a plan beyond his summer holiday then he is not letting on. “I’m talking to teams at the moment and I’m hoping to play again next season,” he said. “It has been incredible for me to play for this team, I’ve made a lot of memories and friends here, so being able to reflect on that and let it soak in is going to be important for me.
“It [leaving the club] has obviously come from Glasgow. Having supported the team from a young age it was amazing to get a chance to step onto the field in that jersey, but it is now exciting to have the chance to hopefully play somewhere else next year
“I’m sure wherever I go it will be quite a cultural change, but I guess that’s part of the excitement of moving clubs – you get a new challenge and new scenery and instead of being an old face I will be a new face learning a new way of doing things.”
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