Fraser Brown backs Glasgow Warriors’ young guns to embrace ‘hostile’ Sandy Park atmosphere

Fraser Brown is looking forward to playing in front of supporters again this weekend and has urged his Glasgow Warriors team-mate to embrace the hostile environment he is anticipating when they take on Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park.

Fraser Brown is back in the Glasgow Warriors squad following a knee injury. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

It is a big test for some of the Warriors’ younger players but Brown has confidence the likes of Ross Thompson and Rory Darge can rise to the occasion on the European stage.

Glasgow are aiming to do the double on the 2020 Champions Cup winners having beaten them at Scotstoun just before Christmas in their final game before Scottish Government restrictions were placed on fans attending outdoor events, restrictions which will be lifted on Monday.

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Danny Wilson’s side defeated Ospreys at an empty Scotstoun last weekend but there are no such rules in England and Sandy Park is expected to be full for Glasgow’s visit on Saturday evening.

Fraser Brown made a try-scoring return to the Glasgow side in the win over Ospreys in the United Rugby Championship. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

Brown, who missed the first match against Exeter as he recovered from a knee injury, made a try-scoring return against Ospreys but knows this weekend’s Champions Cup match represents a big step up against one of the game’s powerhouses. As well as winning European club rugby’s top prize in 2020, Exeter have reached the Premiership final in each of the last six seasons, winning it twice.

“Exeter are probably one of the best teams in Europe,” said the hooker. “They are double English champions, European champions. I thought we were outstanding in the game here before Christmas, it was probably the best performance by at Glasgow team for a number of years.

“From our point of view we can build on that. We talked on Saturday - it is three weeks since that game but we wanted to try to build on that for Ospreys and then roll into this week.

“Exeter have no secret threats. They are very strong set-piece, strong up front and if you give them possession or field position they will hurt you. Before Christmas I thought our discipline was excellent, our management at nine and ten and our back three was excellent.

Glasgow stand-off Ross Thompson kept a cool head during the European Champions Cup win over Exeter Chiefs at Scotstoun. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

“It is going to be a step up this week. It will be a good learning for everyone in our squad but what is gone is gone and we have to take the learnings and positives and build on those for what is going to be a mighty battle this weekend.”

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Glasgow and Exeter are regular adversaries in the Champions Cup and Saturday’s match will be their ninth meeting in the competition. The Warriors’ last visit to Sandy Park ended in a crushing 42-0 defeat last season. That was a low ebb for Glasgow who have improved immeasurably since, bolstering their squad with a number of key signings from the southern hemisphere.

The addition of the likes of Jack Dempsey, Sione Tuipulotu and Josh McKay combined with the development of native talents such Thompson, Darge and Rufus McLean have had a transformative effect but Brown knows how tough it will be to win at Sandy Park.

Rory Darge in action in the win over Exeter at Scotstoun. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

“I've played there a few times,” he said. “The first was in pre-season game. It can be open to the elements so it will be interesting to see what the weather is doing. That will put more emphasis on our set-piece - how well we cope with our own ball and how we cope with theirs because they are a very strong set-piece team.

“It will be great having fans there this weekend. For obvious reasons we did not have fans at the game against Ospreys and it takes so much away from rugby, like all professional sports. They are very passionate about their rugby down in Exeter

“We’ve got to go down there and embrace that. It is going to be a hostile environment. It may be backs against the wall at times, but we have to thrive on that. We are looking forward to it.

“We have young guys in our team, but there are other boys who are performing with the calmest heads. Guys like Ross Thompson and Rory Darge have probably been two of the best players in Scottish rugby over the past six to 12 months.

“It might be a new experience for them, but every single time our young guys have been put into new situations and they have been challenged they have risen to it and performed really well. I don't really expect anything other than that this weekend.”

The Ospreys game was Brown’s first since rupturing his posterior cruciate ligament in the win over Zebre in Italy in October. The Scotland hooker has made a full recovery and spent part of his recuperation doing some analysis for Radio Scotland.

A trenchant voice on the game who also writes a column in The Scotsman, Brown has enjoyed his forays into media work and hasn’t been afraid to criticise where appropriate.

“It gives you a different perspective on the game,” he said. “You still have to watch the game and be analytical but the thing for me is that I never say anything I wouldn’t say in the team room.

“I think that’s why I enjoy it, because you get to analyse the game while you are watching it, so you don’t really switch off and sometimes you pick up things that you wouldn’t normally do at home.

“I’d much rather be on the pitch, but if I’m not then I would rather be involved in some capacity.”

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