Racing 92 scrum-half Mike Phillips believes that Scottish rugby has been on the up now for a couple of years – and he is expecting Glasgow Warriors to provide stern opposition in the European Rugby Champions Cup on Saturday.
The Warriors travel to Paris for the rearranged Pool Three match in the Stade Yves-Du-Manoir sitting in third place with two wins and one loss to date.
Star-studded Racing 92 – now with All Blacks legend Dan Carter controlling their backline – are top of the pool with two wins and a draw and they will start as big favourites against the Warriors who have been wounded by the two recent defeats to Edinburgh.
However, former Welsh cap Phillips, who earned 94 caps for his country and played for the British & Irish Lions, is urging his team mates not to take the challenge of Gregor Townsend’s men lightly.
“We know that Glasgow will be hurting after their two recent defeats to their big rivals Edinburgh, but you do not become a bad side overnight,” the 33-year-old said.
“I have been really impressed by the way that the Warriors have come on in the last few years and the way that they came through and won the Guinness PRO12 last year was good to watch.
“Not only did they win the tournament, but they played some good rugby along the way and they like to attack at every opportunity.
“Before Christmas they also did well to defeat the Scarlets twice in Europe and we have watched these matches closely this week so we know what to expect on Saturday.
“In general I have been impressed with how Scottish rugby has come on in recent years, there seems to be more Scots playing at a higher level around the place now while the Warriors seem like a group who work really hard for each other.
“Doing pretty well in the World Cup will also have helped the likes of Finn Russell and Mark Bennett to move on in their careers, but on Saturday we as Racing 92 have to concentrate on what we do.
“We have had a pretty good season to date and in Europe we are going well and we want to add another win at the weekend because we are determined to make our mark in the Champions Cup this term.”
Phillips toured with the British & Irish Lions in Australia in 2013 and as a result got to know the likes of Scots Stuart Hogg, Ryan Grant, Sean Maitland and Richie Gray who were also in that squad.
He could come up against full-back Hogg and prop Grant this weekend – and he has singled out the former as the Warriors dangerman.
“Stuart is a really good guy and also a great player, he really can create something out of nothing and he is always looking for the slightest of gaps in the defence,” Phillips explained.
“He burst onto the scene when he was really young and seemed to take to high level rugby straight away. On the Lions tour he fitted in with the older guys straight away and was certainly not afraid to speak up in training.
“He was always asking questions and learning and since then he has gone on to become a very good player.
“We know that Glasgow have a number of good players and whichever team they name to take the field we will be prepared to take the game to them and try and get the crowd behind us.”
In recent weeks Phillips has been lucky enough to link-up with Dan Carter in the half-back spots for Racing 92.
Phillips has played alongside some cracking number 10 over his long professional career - and he is certainly enjoying being on the same team as the superstar Kiwi. I have obviously played against Dan before and watched him from afar, but now it is great to be working with him day in and day out on the training field and then taking that in to matches,” the scrum-half said.
“Dan is a great communicator on the field and he is so organised – that lets the players around him try things and helps get our team on the front foot.”