Playing in France is tough. Playing one of the richest clubs in the richest league in Europe is tougher. Playing them without being able to do much in the way of meaningful analysis is possibly the toughest challenge of all.
As Glasgow Warriors prepare for exactly that set of obstacles, however, they are feeling confident about themselves and believe they are ready to end 20 years of Euro misery.
That, says Pat MacArthur, the hooker, has been set out as one of the season’s goals, though they fully understand just how hard it is going to be to come through a pool that includes Racing 92, whom they play in Paris this weekend, Northampton, next week’s visitors to Scotstoun, and the Scarlets, December’s home and away opponents – who were unbeaten in the Guinness Pro12 until a few days ago.
“Going to Paris is a huge challenge, a classy outfit and a big bunch of boys,” said MacArthur with unrestrained enthusiasm. “We are a tight-knit group and we will go that extra mile for each other. That will be a big part of the game for us.
“Europe is the next step. We give ourselves goals at the start of every season and that is one of the goals for his season – to make an impact in that area.
“We know it is all down to us to turn up, be disciplined and put the work into the game. France is a tough place to play, as a forward and as an away team it is a tough, tough place to go, so it will be a good match to be involved in. That’s why you play, isn’t it? To come up against these boys and have a shot at them.”
Nobody is fooling himself. Glasgow looked rusty when they won in Cardiff at the weekend, although head coach Gregor Townsend will be happier now that his core Scotland internationalists, who were playing their first match for the club since the Pro12 final in May, came through with a bonus point victory.
Now that the team has a game under its belt and the players have had another week of training both with their foreign colleagues, whom they have not seen for six months, and with the new coaching set-up now that Dan MacFarland is in charge of the forwards, Townsend is expecting them to step up a level.
MacArthur agrees. “You will see our scrum is strong and our line-out functions,” he said. “A big part of the club is how close-knit our group is. With boys coming in and out, there has been a lot of learning on the field and a lot of learning off the field to help one another so that when we have changes in personnel it does not affect us massively and we can gel and make a tighter unit.
“Against Cardiff, when you look at the first half, up against a strong wind with patches of rain, the hard work that went in shows what we can do, holding onto the ball through extra phases and not overplaying – though we cannot give the ball away so easily.
“Huge amounts of work went in during the first half and in the second, when we got into the attacking areas. Our work rate in the forwards says a lot about where we are as a team. There was a lot of work but a bit of indiscipline hurt us a bit and put us under pressure.
“I knew the boys had done a lot of fitness work, the gas was in the tank and it was just a matter of time.”
From Townsend’s point of view, while he can see how his own team is coming together in training, it is harder to judge Racing 92. They lie third in the Top 14 but have been made to battle for scrappy wins against minnow opponents on their way to a six-wins, two-defeats record at the Euro break – the highlight undoubtedly being a 27-22 win in Toulon on the opening weekend – and, like Glasgow, are re-introducing World Cup players.
Townsend said: “We know Racing 92 are going to be incredibly strong up front, although we don’t really know what team they will pick, they have so many quality internationals.
“We have watched a few of their games so we know what to expect – forward power and guys like [Joe] Rokocoko, [Juan] Imhoff and various others in the back line, although I don’t think [Dan] Carter will be playing,” added Townsend. “There is quality throughout and we know they will be stepping up their game.
“They have had some close victories in the last few weeks where they have not played at their best but I’m sure they will be at their best next week – like when they beat Toulon.”