Glasgow’s hooker Fraser Brown played in the first European match against Racing 92 last season, a 34-10 defeat in Paris, but missed the chance to gain a sliver of revenge in Kilmarnock when the Warriors won the return 22-5.
Not that that result changed anything. Racing qualified for the quarter-finals, Glasgow did not and never have done, lest anyone forget, since the European Cup first kicked off 20 years ago.
Glasgow have beaten the best French and English clubs at Scotsoun but only on the odd rare occasion have they picked up victories on their travels and given the lie of the land in the Champions Cup they may need to do so tomorrow when they face Racing once more in the French capital.
In his berth in the middle of the front row Brown knows better than most about the application of raw power and what it can do to a relatively small pack of forwards such as Glasgow field. Last season Racing scored three of their four tries in Paris directly from driven mauls, which have been the Warriors’ Achilles’ heel since Al Kellock was in short trousers. Why should anything be different his time around?
“We’ve been working hard this year on our lineout defence,” Brown’s reply is a welcome if rather too familiar refrain, “it’s a real area of the game where we can’t let them get a foothold.
“In the last couple of weeks, against Ospreys and Munster especially, that has been a way that we’ve allowed them into the game. And it’s been disappointing for us, particularly as a forward pack, to watch teams come here and try and dominate us like that.” And, he could have added, largely succeed.
“When we play at tempo we’re such a good team. We need to really focus on playing at tempo, and that means winning the breakdown, winning the collision.”
The former Merchiston Castle captain is one of the game’s thinkers and a good talker with it. When he puts his case so eloquently you find yourself nodding along with him, it all seems so simple, Glasgow impose their high tempo game plan, who can live with it?
And then reality gets in the way. Racing can play fast and loose if they want and Dan Carter, pictured, often does, but equally they can shut up shop and maul a team like Glasgow into the dirt.
It will take something special from Glasgow’s big men to defend their line having noticeably failed to do so in the last three league matches, all of which have been lost.
In a week in which former Highlanders No 8 Nasi Manu suggested that Edinburgh Rugby’s mental preparation for matches was not what it should be, Brown suggests that at least some of Glasgow’s problems are also in the head rather than their heart.
“If you’re not at the races mentally or physically, then technique and power will tell,” he argues. “But if you’re really aggressive and attack them and are very specific technically at what you’re trying to do, power and weight only contribute so much.
“This year and last we’ve had a really good record at defending things like strike drives in the 22. Where we’ve let ourselves down on the odd occasion is not quite being there. You can’t afford against the very best sides to have the odd lineout, let alone the odd game, where you’re not quite switched on. It’s a fraction of a percentage, if you don’t quite get it right, you find yourselves under your own posts or a man down.
“I’m not suggesting that we’re not spot on [in mental prep]. I’m just suggesting there’s maybe been a trait where you do 80 per cent of the work really well. It was a trait in Scotland games in the past where you could play really well for 50 or 60 minutes, then have a ten or 15-minute spell...
“That’s all it takes – a ten-minute spell or one lineout drive or one lapse of concentration when you’re playing at the very top end of rugby. Just one little slip lets teams in, and it’s so hard once you’ve given over that control in a game to try and wrestle it back. It’s not the mental preparation going into a game, it’s when you’re in the game, making sure you stay in the right frame of mind for the whole 80 minutes.”