PETER Murchie knows better than anyone in Scottish rugby the frustration that comes from being in a team with lots of competition for places.
But, having been handed Glasgow’s No 15 jersey for Friday’s opening RaboDirect PRO12 match against Cardiff, he believes that competition can lead to success.
The 27-year-old earned his first Scotland cap on the summer tour to South Africa and showed that he was not out of place against South Africa and Italy. But he knows that the door opened when his Warriors rival Stuart Hogg was selected for the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia, and so was unavailable for Scotland.
That does not depress him, but rather provides a motivational spark, and Murchie is eager to show that, while Hogg may be held up as the latest Scottish talent, he himself has other areas of strength that could make it difficult for his younger rival to even find a regular place in his club XV this season.
“You always want to play,” said Murchie, “and I was pretty fortunate last season that I was involved in pretty much every game right up to the last month or two, when I found games a bit hard to come by.
“At times it gets frustrating but you have to keep the mind-set that your chance will come and I made it back into the team for the last game of the season. I think that was on merit. I would expect that, if Hoggy wasn’t playing well and I was, then I would play, and would expect the same to happen if it was the other way round.
“[Coach] Gregor [Townsend] has said to everybody that we start off on an equal playing field and it is about who deserves it because they are playing better.
“The hype about him [Hogg] going away with the Lions is out of my control. It is great for him, it is great for Glasgow and it is great for Scotland. I can’t say anything more than that.
“It’s nice that I’m getting a chance to stake a claim [this week]. Let’s not be stupid, he is going to get a shot at some point, so it’s up to me to put down a marker and help us get off to a good start. We lost our first two games last year, so we got off to a pretty slow start but we’re carrying a bit more momentum this year with our good [pre-season] win in Exeter, so let’s keep the ball rolling.”
The lack of such competition is what the SRU and Townsend believe has been the biggest impediment to the Scottish professional teams competing consistently for silverware.
Townsend released only a few players this summer but to a squad strengthened last season, notably with Sean Maitland, Josh Strauss and Niko Matawalu, he has added another small crop of overseas performers and welcomed back Richie Vernon. He has also promoted more young talent through the elite development player programme to ensure nearly 90 per cent of the squad remain Scottish-qualified.
Even skipper Al Kellock has missed the past two pre-season games as Townsend tries to give youngster Jonny Gray the belief that he can be part of the matchday squad if he continues his development.
Murchie is certainly enjoying seeing the battles for jerseys become more intense in more positions and, after a narrow loss at Harlequins and that win away to Exeter, believes there is a genuine hype and new expectation in the squad and among west of Scotland rugby supporters.He added: “I think that, with everyone you speak to outside the club, you can see they are really excited about what is happening at Glasgow. We’re getting a lot more people turning up to the games, lots of kids and people seem to know what is going on.
“Last year was a bit of a step into the unknown. We had a new coach in Gregor coming in and nobody was quite sure what was going to happen so to end up having probably our best-ever season was great and, certainly, I think the sights are set a little bit higher this season and we are excited about what we think we can achieve.
“We’ve got to a level where we’re able to compete and win things. If you look back to the Leinster [play-off] game, it was a stray kick or discipline not being great [that cost us], so we’re trying to be more disciplined, not give easy three point penalties away and be consistent.
“I don’t think we were far away last season, but we’ve brought some new, quality players into the squad, so the squad is even stronger.
“I didn’t think that was possible but it is and some of the competition for places is ridiculous.”