AS YOU can imagine, we were delighted by the positive start we made to our European Rugby Champions Cup campaign with our victory over Bath last Saturday.
The atmosphere produced by a sell-out crowd at Scotstoun was fantastic and the players put in a huge effort throughout the 80 minutes. It was a high-paced game and what was really encouraging to see was the accuracy in our handling and around the contact area.
After games when we gather as a squad in the changing room, I usually highlight the one or two players that I believe have put in the most effort during the match, or have done the most to help their team-mates win.
On Saturday, I could have highlighted any one of our 23 players, such was the contribution from the entire squad in the game. For example, our two centres, Peter Horne and Mark Bennett, for different reasons, showed real strength of character and had outstanding games.
Peter had been struggling with illness in the days before the game yet he managed to turn in an exceptional display, in which he covered more metres than any other player, was constantly in motion and was exemplary in defence.
Mark Bennett recovered from the trauma of being rendered unconscious in a tackle the previous week against Ulster, and scored two excellent tries.
His first try was the perfect execution of a switch play – going back on an outside arc after taking the pass to run into the space that had been created by Duncan Weir’s running line.
Mark followed Peter’s lead and also had a big game in defence, reading the late movement of the dangerous Bath backline.
But it was mixed emotions for Peter and Mark on Monday, as while Mark was one of 17 Glasgow players called up to the Scotland squad for the November Tests, Peter narrowly missed out on selection.
It is great to see so many Warriors in the squad but given the fact we have 30 players in our group that have already played international rugby for Scotland, there were a number who were disappointed not to be involved.
It’s important that they turn this disappointment into determination, and are focused on doing all they can to wear the navy blue jersey once again.
Our game against Treviso on Friday week will be the perfect opportunity for these players to perform in what will be our final Pro12 game before a two-week break.
Before we take on Treviso, we are heading out to France for our second Champions Cup game. We will take on formidable opponents in Montpellier, who present a similar challenge to that we faced against Bath.
They have an even bigger pack of forwards and have some experienced Test players in their ranks like French prop Nicolas Mas and ex-Wallaby skipper Ben Mowen.
In the backs they have some exceptional players in former All Black Rene Ranger and a couple of very talented Fijians on the wings in Timoci Nagusa and Samisoni Viriviri. While ex-Springbok centre Wynand Olivier is another player we rate highly.
I had a very enjoyable spell at Montpellier between 2004 and 2005 before I returned to Scotland to finish my playing career back with the Borders.
But the club have really grown since then, getting huge investment in their facilities and playing squad, which has helped them them become one of the best teams in France. They moved to the wonderful Stade Yves-du Manoir the season after I returned home and they regularly manage to fill the venue with passionate and noisy support.
Montpellier were known throughout France for their excellent academy set-up, and back in 2004 they had four superb young players just beginning to break into the first team – Louis Picamoles, Julien Thomas, Fulgence Ouedraogo and Francois Trinh-Dhuc.
Of this group, only Ouedraogo and Trinh-Duc remain at the club, but a number of other home-grown players have since come through their youth system. Together with their experienced foreign players they have tremendous depth in their squad.
But we can’t wait to go up against another team that can be considered one of the best in Europe.
ALTHOUGH we won’t be playing Bath until January 2015, one thing is for sure – they will be a lot stronger when we face them in the return fixture at the Recreation Ground.
In particular they will surely have some of their injured backrowers back available, which is likely to include the world-class openside Francois Louw. They will also be boosted by the availability of Sam Burgess, the exceptional talent they have recruited from Rugby League.
Bath play a fairly unique brand of rugby, in that there is a very strong Rugby League influence in their play and that is no surprise in that Mike Ford, their head coach, was half-back in the great Wigan side of the 1980s.
With his son, George, in the No 10 jersey and former Great Britain international Kyle Eastmond outside him, the attacking shapes of Bath last weekend were very similar to that seen from the likes of St Helens or Wigan.
Having Burgess also in the backline will probably mean this style of rugby being expanded, so opposition sides will have to get used to defending waves of decoy runners outside 9 and 10, with “pull-back” passes bringing additional ball players on to the ball.
Will opposition defences cope with this evolution of phase play attack? Will other teams adopt the Bath attacking style in their game-plan? Or will the nature of our tackle contest compared to the “play-the-ball” in Rugby League mean that there are limits on how much you can adopt from the 13-a-side game?
I’m sure we will have a clearer picture by the time we play Bath in mid-January.