The last time Glasgow travelled south to stand toe to toe with the reigning English champions it did not end well for the Warriors, who were given a lesson in clinical, physical finishing by Saracens.
This evening, Glasgow open their European account with a first round match against Exeter, the reigning English champions, and coach Dave Rennie is not inclined to minimise the size of the task.
“We have played some pretty good sides but they are the English champions so it is another new level I think,” said the Kiwi. “We know we are in the tough pool, so starting well is crucial so I am really excited. We have had a good week of preparation ahead of the game.
“They are an impressive club for a start. Their talent identification has been outstanding and they have come a long way in the last four or five years. Watching them play, they put a wall in front of you every time defensively. They can kick the ball and go through the phases. We will have to defend really well and slow their ball down a bit. When we attack we are looking to find space in their wall. They’re going to ask questions of us from 1 to 15. We’re aware of that and we’ll front up.”
Glasgow have been riding their luck and, in fairness, their gritty defence to date. The eight tries they have conceded is the lowest around but, if their defence is cussed, their set piece is more cursed.
Fraser Brown gets another start at hooker after his arrows failed to find the board in the opening 40 in Bloemfontein and Rennie keeps the same front row that were given a severe examination by the Cheetahs at scrum time. Glasgow conceded 15 penalties in all, well over par. Jonny Gray will call the sidelines from the second row where he again partners Tim Swinson.
“The lineout issues were of our own making rather than the opposition causing any problems for us,” says Rennie. “We’ll tighten that up and it will be good on Saturday night.
“As for the scrum, we have a young pack but they have been training really well and are learning quickly. We expect Exeter to challenge us there as it is a big part of the game and it is an area where we want to be able to launch from. Exeter play a positive brand of footy and, as opposed to kicking for goal, they will try and put you in a corner, so we can’t give away soft penalties.”
Rennie picked the same forward pack, with the only two changes from the side that started against the Cheetahs last weekend occurring in the Glasgow backs. Lee Jones gets a start on the wing in place of Leonardo Sarto and Peter Horne’s skills as a second-five are preferred to the more physical presence of Sam Johnstone at inside centre.
It makes for a midfield populated by smaller men, proof perhaps that Gordon Strachan was on to something when he moaned about the Scottish gene pool. Peter Horne is the relative giant, playing in between the flyweight figure of stand-off Finn Russell and pocket rocket that is Nick Grigg at outside centre.
With a large and growing disparity in resources between the Celtic and the “Frenglish” clubs, is it feasible for a club like Glasgow to fight on two fronts, domestically in the Pro14 and in Europe, at the same time?
“We’re well aware that it’s not necessarily a level playing field when it comes to salary caps and so on but you can use that as excuse or you just get on with it,” said Rennie.
“There will be 15 v 15 and our guys are focused on performance rather than who’s getting what. I don’t think you can afford to worry about that sort of thing. It’s just who is the best on the night.”
Glasgow will arrive at Sandy Park defending a perfect record of six wins from six this season but that stat comes up against another impressive one; Exeter are unbeaten at home in the last 11 games.