Glasgow forwards coach Dan McFarland believes that making the breakthrough into the latter stages of European competition more regularly will have a knock-on benefit for the national team.
Both Glasgow and Edinburgh face massive continental battles tomorrow in their bids to secure quarter-final places, with the Warriors’ Champions Cup showdown with Pool 1 leaders Munster at Scotstoun one of the biggest matches ever played by a Scottish club.
A win would put Gregor Townsend’s men on the brink of a first-ever place in the knockout stages of the elite competition and McFarland, who will be joining his boss in the move to the Scotland set-up at the end of the season, points to the example of how Irish provinces’ success in Europe in the 2000s was clearly linked to what became a golden age for the Ireland team.
“I think the whole thing goes together,” said the Englishman who forged his coaching career across the Irish Sea with Connacht, the Wolfhounds and Under-20s. “If you look at the history of those Irish teams, it was no coincidence that the rise of the Irish international team was linked to Munster and Leinster’s success in Europe.
“The two go hand-in-hand; one helps the other. It’s not necessarily a chicken and egg, it’s hard to say which started which, but the success of Munster in Europe certainly had a huge impact on the confidence of their national team. Leinster followed that and when you have big quarter-finals and semi-finals it is exposing players to a level of rugby that those involved in will tell you comes very close to Test-match level. That kind of experience is gold and that’s what we’re looking for. To get that experience and then come out as a winner is even better. For the Scottish teams to be playing in quarter-finals and semi-finals would be huge and it is a huge goal.”
McFarland’s time at Connacht gave him a deeper appreciation for the Munster way and he is expecting the men in red to bring a ferocious will to win tomorrow evening.
“I spent a long time in Ireland and I’ve always admired them,” he said. “I know a lot of the people around the organisation very well. That sense of family and togetherness, that fighting spirit when times get hard, is something that has characterised them for a long time.
“But that characterises the Warriors as well. This is a place that relishes difficult times; it is not an organisation that shies away from that. They want that, they want something that tests them.”
European nights at Scotstoun this season have been lit up by some sparkling displays by the Warriors’ backs in the wins over Leicester and Racing 92 but tomorrow could well be more of an arm wrestle, which McFarland believes his pack is more than up for.
“I think we will need to [match them up front],” he said. “Munster bring a very specific gameplan which they execute extremely well, right up there with the best, whether it is in their forward play, their defence, their kicking game. But also, they can be lethal in their attacks.
“They are certainly focused around an attritional style of play and if we don’t deal with that then it is going to be a very difficult afternoon. We have to front up. We have to bring our A game. And we will have to be better than last week [a 29-15 Pro12 win over Cardiff].
“The lads did well last week but we’re now going up to another level playing Champions Cup rugby, where the cost of defeat, while not catastrophic for either team, is something we don’t want to think about.”
Glasgow sit three points behind tomorrow’s visitors on 13 points and still have Leicester away next weekend, but no-one at Scotstoun wants to be heading south needing a big win to salvage qualification hopes.
“From a rational, logical point of view, one win could be enough, but it’s not the way I approach it,” said McFarland.
“For me, it is a massive cliche in sport, but when you’re preparing a team you might have a bigger goal such as qualifying for the quarter-final, but you spend the vast majority of your time on the next game. It will be the same for Leicester next week. Then, we will be totally focused on winning that game, whether we’ve won or lost against Munster. But we will try to win both games.”
McFarland welcomed another couple of re-signings for the club this week and added: “It’s great news, obviously, that players of the quality of Tommy Seymour and Tim Swinson, pictured, are staying with the club, and staying in Scotland. Other teams are interested, why wouldn’t they be? It’s a credit to the organisation, the SRU, that they are able to fight so hard to make sure players stay in Scotland.”