Glasgow need to get off to a perfect start in their Champions Cup pool and continue on in that vein if they are to break through their European glass ceiling and reach the knockout stages of the elite tournament for the first time.
That’s the view of former Warriors and Scotland hooker Dougie Hall ahead of this Friday’s Pool 1 opener against Leicester Tigers at Scotstoun. With only the winners of the five pools guaranteed qualification to the quarter-finals, to be joined by the three best runners-up, an early home defeat can leave an all-but-impossible mountain to climb.
That was the case last year when the then Guinness Pro12 champions slumped to a 26-15 loss to Northampton Saints on home soil in round one and were forced to play catch-up for the rest of the campaign.
Head coach Gregor Townsend is desperate to get the European monkey off Glasgow’s backs before he departs to take the Scotland reins at the end of the season but they have once again been handed a daunting draw.
Testing matches against two-time European champions Munster and, for the second season running, cashed-up French giants Racing 92, will follow but for now the focus is fully on getting off to a winning start against Leicester on Friday.
“You just can’t afford to get behind the curve in Europe. You have to start really well,” said Hall, who retired in 2015 following Glasgow’s historic Pro12 triumph.
“You can maybe lose one game but even then it’s a struggle. There’s not many competitions where you pretty much have to be perfect to have a chance.
“There is almost pressure to get bonus points in your home games. Not to say that’s the mindset you go out with as that is not very wise. The focus always has to be simply on winning the game first. But you do need to maximise the points at home, with the knowledge that everyone is going to be good at home.
“At this level, everyone is excellent at home so it may come down to points difference or try bonus points.”
That defeat by Northampton last year broke a run of good wins over English opposition over the years with Bath (twice), Gloucester, Wasps, Northampton and Exeter all being despatched at home grounds.
“We knocked off some really good English sides. They shouldn’t hold any fears,” said Hall, though he is under no illusions that it will take a top performance to get the points on Friday. “Leicester are one of the English sides who are consistently up there in the top echelons down there. I think they will be incredibly tough, they make themselves hard to beat. There is never an easy win over them. They fight hard and are always well prepared. They’ve maybe not been really flying this season so far but they’re still up there in the top four.”
The last few years have seen the financial gap between the Anglo-French and Pro12 sides widen at pace, with no Celtic sides making the knockout stages last season.
Hall still believes Glasgow can be competitive, however, and added. “I absolutely think they can. I believe Glasgow are now a team to be feared in any competition. If you look at the talent they have.
“But I do think it is the case that, as much as we play in it every year, we haven’t had the experience of playing in the business end of the European Champions Cup. We maybe don’t have that winning habit in Europe and it can be difficult to get over that hurdle.
“The way Glasgow play has maybe not always lent itself to Europe. We don’t really do that English-French pressure rugby, dominant set-piece, holding the ball for long periods. Especially when you have to go away and sneak a win somewhere difficult that kind of style can stand you in good stead. That’s probably why Munster had such success in Europe a few years back, the way they would control the ball.
“Glasgow in recent years have maybe brought their attractive Pro12 style of rugby to the European arena and I remember coming off the pitch a few times and thinking ‘I’m not really sure that was the best way to go there’.”
Hall, who won 42 caps for his country, is confident Glasgow can get a result this week. “It should be a cracker and I just hope that this can be the year we take that next step in Europe because I feel it is overdue,” he said. “I think on our day we can beat anyone in Europe at home.”