SEAN Maitland has admitted that the key to Glasgow’s hopes of a seminal success in France against Montpellier will rest on their ability to make a good start at the newly re-branded Altrad Stadium, this evening.
With Glasgow head coach Gregor Townsend also citing Montpellier’s ability to tap into the frenzied backing of their partisan support, the Scotland wing recalled the words of wisdom bestowed on him by Ireland front-row Rory Best, whose Ulster side’s 25-8 success at the former Stade Yves-du-Manoir last term in the old Heineken Cup was built on a Blitzkrieg start.
Although it was news to Maitland, Glasgow have previously enjoyed themselves in the South of France, posting a 30-11 victory in the European Challenge Cup in 2003 at Carcasonne, and just three years ago claiming a resolute 13-13 draw at the current home of the men from Montpellier, from which they can take no little succour.
Yet Maitland admits that a Montpellier back-line that also includes Rene Ranger, an ex-All Black and former Super Rugby foe, bristles with a menace that will give Glasgow all the defensive trouble they can cope with.
He said: “I was talking to Rory Best after our recent Pro12 game at Ulster and I asked him how he had found it last season when Ulster had Montpellier in their Heineken Cup group and he had some very interesting words on that.
“Rory had said the key for Ulster was that they had got on top early, got a couple of quick tries and really taken the energy out of the crowd and given Montpellier nothing to work with.
“Particularly he’d made the point that the first ten minutes were crucial and we know that we are going to have to be really resolute early on. So if you can turn the crowd on Montpellier it can become a weakness for them rather than a strength.
“But there has been no talk about three years ago and the draw and to be honest I hadn’t heard that one.”
With Duncan Weir, Chris Fusaro and Pat MacArthur the only survivors from that brutal encounter it is perhaps no surprise that Maitland, who did not arrive at Scotstoun until late 2012, was left in the dark.
Yet when it came to recollections of his previous encounters with Ranger, the former Canterbury flyer was in no need of a memory jog.
In turning his attention to the meeting with his old acquaintance, Maitland admitted that another testing defensive examination will await him.
The 26-year-old said: “We have been up against some quality wingers in recent weeks with Tommy Bowe against Ulster and then last week it was (Semesa) Rokoduguni at Bath and obviously Montpellier have (Timoli) Nagusa and (Viriviri) Nasagavesi.
“But I’m looking forward to coming up against Rene Ranger once again. We locked-horns back in Super Rugby a few times when he was with the Blues and he is a great player and a good strong runner.
“You know, apart from one slip-up against Bath, we were very solid defensively and we will trust our defensive systems once again.
“But last week has gone and this game with Montpellier is an acid test for us. If we want to get out of the group we need to take something here.”
Townsend has made four changes from the side that defeated Bath last week.
At stand-off Finn Russell starts with Duncan Weir reverting to the bench while Alex Dunbar ousts Peter Horne from the starting XV with the former Howe of Fife favourite lining up for Glasgow Hawks in the BT Premiership.
Josh Strauss reclaims the No 8 jersey from Adam Ashe and is also reinstalled as captain and Tim Swinson is preferred to Leone Nakarawa who, along with Ashe, is included in the replacements. The extra power added throughout the spine of the team by the return of Swinson, Strauss and Dunbar underlines just how physical Townsend expects this encounter to be, as his men look to gain some real control over their own European destiny.
For his part, the Warriors’ coach admitted that victory in France is still the benchmark of progress in Europe.
He said: “You have got to win your away games and it’s unusual to have two French teams in your Pool, which is going to make it very tough, but it has always been the ultimate to win in France.
“Our win against Bath has given us the best possible start to our European campaign and we are very determined to build on that.
“Montpellier have been in great form this season and they have a squad packed full of international players but we are looking forward to the challenge of playing in France against a quality side.”