Former Glasgow and Scotland hooker Dougie Hall accepts that his old club are pretty much done for in Europe this season, but refuses to ignore the encouraging signs from the start of Dave Rennie’s tenure and still believes a thrilling season is in store.
The Warriors slumped to their second straight defeat at the start of their Champions Cup Pool 3 campaign, going down to Leinster 34-18 at Scotstoun on Saturday. Following on from a reverse at Exeter the previous weekend and stuck on zero points, it looks like any hopes of replicating last season’s qualification for the last eight are already doomed.
“I’m sure mathematically it’s still possible but everyone is aware how difficult it is if you lose a home game,” said Hall, who hung up his boots after featuring in the 2015 Guinness Pro12 final win. “You can just about afford to lose an away game. But losing a home game makes it difficult.”
With only the five pool winners and three best runners-up getting through, Glasgow know there is no more room for error, with a double-header against Vern Cotter’s Montpellier next up in December. The French side lost at home to Exeter at the weekend but have managed to amass three bonus points from their two defeats, with the English champions on eight points.
Leinster continuing their runaway progress emphatically against the Chiefs in their double header could help put Glasgow in second spot by Christmas, if they can beat Cotter’s side home and away, but Hall reckons the top two cancelling each other out could be the best long-game prospect.
“Maybe if they split themselves without taking bonus points,” he said, when considering any possible route for Glasgow, who did manage to qualify on four wins last term.
“Historically, when one side dominates a group it becomes incredibly difficult to get up to enough points for one of those three best second spots. It’s probably best for Glasgow if Exeter and Leinster play two low-scoring games and each of them wins one by eight points. That would bring everyone back in the mix.
“But Glasgow can’t afford to lose another game, that’s the bottom line.”
Hall refused to be too deflated by the events at Scotstoun on Saturday, accepting that, in a very tough pool, they have simply lost to another better side on the day.
“I thought Leinster came in with a very clear plan of how they were going to play and executed it very well,” he said. “Up front they were disciplined and I think that was the difference in the end.
“Teams are starting to understand that Glasgow can run with anyone. It still amazes me how fit and full of running they are at the end of games. I think what teams are doing now is keeping it tight. I don’t think the mauling game and scrummaging is that much of a weakness for Glasgow but that’s the way to not allow their strengths to come to the fore.”
The ambition was there again on Saturday, but not always the execution, with a number of dropped balls and wayward passes in admittedly slippery conditions.
“You can’t take all the great stuff that Glasgow do, their willingness to run the ball and play attractive rugby, and then not accept that, at times, things aren’t going to go perfectly,” insisted the 42-times capped hooker.
“Leinster and Exeter the week before are just good sides, who edged it on the day. I don’t think it was by any means a bad performance from Glasgow. It’s just unfortunate that under the microscope of European rugby that you don’t get second chances.”
The two European defeats have taken a bit of a gloss off the perfect start to the Pro14 under Rennie, but Hall believes that can soon be put right by a squad who will be eager to give a response.
“You can just tell that what Dave says on camera and to the press is exactly how he speaks to the players,” said Hall.
“He’s very straightforward and honest, has high standards. A couple of disappointments the last two weeks but I think you can see they are thriving under Dave and there is lots to look forward to them achieving as the season progresses.
“I would expect a reaction in the league against the Southern Kings this Friday. What happens with Europe will happen but the focus certainly switches to Pro14 now because that is what’s ahead of them. They’ve got off to a great start and will be looking to build on that week to week.”