AS ONE of few Scots to have savoured European glory and a man who has played for both Glasgow Warriors and Bath, Mark McMillan is perfectly placed to look ahead to the big clash between the two sides this weekend.
During a professional career that saw him spend two spells at the Warriors, as well as playing for Leeds, Wasps and Bath, scrum-half McMillan earned 13 Scotland A caps. He also won the Heineken Cup with Wasps in 2007, being on the bench when they defeated Leicester Tigers 25-9 at Twickenham in the final.
The 31-year-old, who learnt his trade at Stirling County, retired last summer due to injury, but is still involved in the game and is now coaching and operations manager at Abacus Kowloon in Hong Kong.
He has been impressed by both the Warriors’ start to the season and that of Bath, and believes the Pool 3 opener in the European Rugby Champions Cup at Scotstoun on Saturday will be a cracker.
He said: “I really think it will be a fascinating game. There are two teams that are riding the crest of a wave at the moment who are playing brilliant rugby. Glasgow have added so many dimensions to their game and can play so many different ways. They have got some really intelligent rugby players and a great squad where anyone can step in and add value.
“Bath are equally dangerous and have some really exciting young talent who are playing incredible rugby and are scoring tries for fun. I believe it will be close and I expect both of them to go far this season.”
In McMillan’s first stint at the Warriors back in 2003, Hugh Campbell was head coach with Sean Lineen and Shade Munro the assistants. When he returned in 2008 both Lineen and Munro were still there and he remembers that time fondly.
“During that period we were a very close group that knew each other very well and played for each other. At the time, we were operating with a smaller budget than our competitors, but were regularly beating them home and away.
“When we reached the league play-offs with that squad we knew we were capable of going one better and, since then, I am really pleased to see Glasgow have pushed on and can now beat anyone on their day.”
From the Warriors he joined Bath in 2010 and he added: “I have fond memories playing at such a proud club as Bath, steeped in deep rugby history. They had a really passionate group of supporters who rightly expect silverware.
“It was fantastic to play at ‘The Rec’ in front of packed crowds. Unfortunately, in my second and third seasons, I suffered big injuries which kept me out for large periods and, ultimately, ended my career.
“Bath are in an incredibility strong place right now. They are building on some strong foundations that have been set by previous coaches and Mike Ford is really taking them to another level. I fully expect them to take home at least one piece of silverware this season.”
Andy Nicol lifted the Heineken Cup with Bath back in 1998, but, between then and now, not that many Scots have laid hands on Europe’s most prized silverware.
McMillan is one of them, though, and being part of a Wasps squad that included the likes of Lawrence Dallaglio, Phil Vickery, Simon Shaw, Josh Lewsey and Danny Cipriani just over eight years ago was a career highlight.
As he explained: “Winning the Heineken Cup with Wasps in 2007 was incredibly special. It was a tough journey to the final and we had to beat some brilliant teams.
“The feeling and confidence around that team that season was unreal. We felt like it didn’t matter who or where we played, we expected to win every week. Thankfully, we did. When the final whistle blew it was awesome.”
And as the new era of European rugby begins in the shape of the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, gets under way this weekend, watching at home in Hong Kong, McMillan will no doubt have other flashbacks to his career, especially when Glasgow Warriors and Bath meet on Saturday.