GLASGOW lock Timothy James Montague Swinson is fighting on two fronts.
Next Sunday he must face two of the best second rows in world rugby when Glasgow open their Heineken Cup campaign in Toulon but, right now, he must rage against his own friends and colleagues who have only just discovered the “Montague” middle name and have been filling their boots ever since.
“I’ve had a bit of stick,” he concedes with good grace. “The registrar, added an ‘e’ to the end by mistake which just makes it all the more hilarious.”
Toulon are the current Heineken Cup holders and, while the French giants have an embarrassment of riches in all departments, their collection of second-row forwards includes former Springbok enforcer Bakkies Botha and Ali Williams, who was the go-to guy in the middle of the All Blacks lineout for the best part of a decade. Swinson faces a daunting task, or so you would think.
“I think that’s what all rugby players want to do, to play against the best,” insists the recent Scotland international. “They want to play in the Heineken Cup because that is where the best teams play and, really, what’s the point of sticking around playing at one level. You want to test yourself. That is one of the really intriguing things about coming up to Glasgow. I felt really tested in the first few months, guys like Al [Kellock], Jonny Gray coming through, Tom Ryder, a load of guys who have proved at international and club level that they are really good players. It was good to play in a squad where you are pushed not only by your own position but also by all the players around you and I felt that has really helped me in the last 12 months.”
“We are moving on at Glasgow. We want to test ourselves against the best so it’s a perfect start for us – the defending champions at Stade Mayol. It’s going to be a great atmosphere, it’s going to be a fantastic moment in my career but, really, we are going there for a game. We’re not just turning up to watch the defending champions.
“We know we can compete with the best teams in our league and the top teams in Europe so why not focus on winning rather than just making up the numbers which I’m sure lots of people think we are doing.”
Swinson has come a long way since he was as a 19∫-stone tighthead prop at Oundle School in the English Midlands. He made the move to lock and, still learning his new trade, turned out for Bedford Blues seconds before heading to Australia, where a season with the Sydney University Colts was the making of him.
“If I hadn’t gone to Australia, I wouldn’t be here now,” he says. On Swinson’s return to the UK, he started a degree at Newcastle University, joined the Falcons and eventually turned out 120 times for the club, an ever-present, dependable figure in the boiler house, not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty – a worker’s worker.
With a Glasgow granny, Swinson is related to East Dunbartonshire MP Jo Swinson. He spent a summer working as a research assistant for another MP and once harboured a desire to be a politician, the Speaker to be exact, before realising the real political power lay elsewhere.
Perhaps also realising that the real rugby power lay outside of Newcastle, the lock moved to the Warriors at the start of last season in search of international honours and duly won two caps in the summer during Scotland’s tripartite competition in South Africa.
Asked what he brings to the table, the player’s response is unequivocal. “Aggression... physicality”. In many respects the lock is the personification of the club he has joined. He is small for a modern tight forward at 6ft 4in but he always takes the fight to the opposition and punches well above his weight, which is just as well because next Sunday Glasgow tackle one of the true heavyweights of world rugby in Toulon. Could it be a case of a good big ’un beating a good little ’un?
“That’s a dated view,” Swinson argues. “Back in the day I think pack weight had an influence on who would win, just because it was harder to deal with. But, in the modern day, our strength and conditioning team, Stuart Yule and Hugh Jones, do a fantastic job on our fitness, as you’ve seen through the first four games of the season.
“I don’t think that the adage is relevant any more. I think it’s all about strength and fitness and technique, which we definitely have as a pack. It’s going to be a test, don’t get me wrong, but I think that we’re up to it.
“There’s been a massive change in the physicality of our squad, throughout the whole pack really, it is something that really separates us from a few other teams and it is something we can really hang our hat on. If we get that battle right and other things fall into place, we’ll come out with a win.”
Glagsow have already been to the south of France and returned with a famous victory, over Toulouse in 2009, and everyone wrote them off then as well. Toulon have everything in their favour – size, budget, home advantage, Jonny Wilkinson for heaven’s sake – with possibly one exception: hunger. The French giants won Europe’s big one last season but this Glasgow squad is still looking to make their mark on the tournament and they are admirably unified.
“I’ve fitted in very quickly,” says Swinson. “The guys are fantastic, I’ve made good friends already. There are a lot of guys who really love Glasgow and want to stay at the club to play with their mates. A lot of people think that doesn’t happen in the pro era any more and it would be a shame if rugby does lose that because it’s one of the main drivers of the sport, the social side.”
Notwithstanding his middle name, Swinson has always been a Glasgow rugby player, he just needed to join the club to prove it.