Glasgow Warriors aim for history in Champions Cup at the 24th time of asking against Harlequins

The Scotstoun outfit have never won a Champions Cup knock-out tie and can make history in London

Glasgow Warriors have never won a knockout tie in the Champions Cup and Friday night at the Stoop against Harlequins would be as good a place as any to rectify that.

It’s their 24th tilt at European club rugby’s top-tier competition and a victory at this stage is long overdue. They’ve reached two quarter-finals previously but that was in the days before the round of 16 was added.

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That’s the stage they are currently at and it’s a familiar face in Danny Wilson who is blocking their path to the last eight. Wilson, who spent two years in charge of Glasgow before being shown the door, predicted on Wednesday that there would be 12 Scotland internationals in the Warriors team and he wasn’t far off. Franco Smith, who succeeded Wilson in the Scotstoun hot-seat, has selected 11 and the headline news is that Sione Tuipulotu is back. The Scotland centre has not played since limping out of the Calcutta Cup win on February 24 but returns to add his special brand of muscular dynamism to the Glasgow midfield.

Glasgow Warriors' Max Williamson, centre, has retained his place in the second row for the Champions Cup round of 16 tie with Harlequins. (Photo by Ewan Bootman / SNS Group)Glasgow Warriors' Max Williamson, centre, has retained his place in the second row for the Champions Cup round of 16 tie with Harlequins. (Photo by Ewan Bootman / SNS Group)
Glasgow Warriors' Max Williamson, centre, has retained his place in the second row for the Champions Cup round of 16 tie with Harlequins. (Photo by Ewan Bootman / SNS Group)

His recovery from a knee injury is much earlier than expected and he’ll pair up with Stafford McDowall against Quins duo Andre Esterhuizen and Oscar Beard in what promises to be one of the game’s key battlegrounds. Esterhuizen was excellent in his side’s harum-scarum 40-36 win over Bath last weekend and is the sort of big ball-carrier who can punch holes in the toughest defences.

Inside him will be the more subtle Marcus Smith, whose invention came to the fore against Bath with a memorable solo try. The England fly-half will have to be closely watched, as will his half-back partner Danny Care.

Franco Smith prefers to focus on what his side can do and in bringing back Tuipulotu, Kyle Steyn, Johnny Matthews, Matt Fagerson and Jack Dempsey, he has selected what appears to be his strongest possible team based on the players available to him. Huw Jones, George Turner and Richie Gray are all injured.

This is not the time for squad rotation as he sets about trying to cast aside the club’s unwanted record in the Champions Cup. Smith has form for this. His Warriors side beat Dragons, Lions and Scarlets in last season’s march to the Challenge Cup final and those were Glasgow’s first ever knockout wins in European competition.

Andre Esterhuizen of Harlequins is a serious threat with the ball in hand.Andre Esterhuizen of Harlequins is a serious threat with the ball in hand.
Andre Esterhuizen of Harlequins is a serious threat with the ball in hand.

The Champions Cup is a significant step up and although Smith has largely gone with experience, there are also a couple of more adventurous selections. Nathan McBeth gets the nod at loosehead prop ahead of Oli Kebble and young Max Williamson will partner Scott Cummings in the second row. It will be Williamson’s 12th appearance in Glasgow colours.

“We always said we were going to bring the young Scottish guys through,” said Smith. “I think Max physically developed really well: his knowledge around the game and the way he applies himself in the game earned him the opportunity to start in this game. He represents the working-class mentality that we have here: a hard worker, a grafter, somebody that does the dirty work and is not always seen carrying the ball, maybe, or running around and making passes. But he does his job properly.”

Glasgow’s previous two involvements in the quarter-finals came in 2017 and 2019 and they lost to Saracens on both occasions. It is 11 years since Quins reached the last eight but they impressed in this season’s group phase, beating Racing 92, Cardiff and Ulster to secure a home tie in the last 16. The reward on offer on Friday evening at a sold-out Stoop is a quarter-final against either Bordeaux or Saracens.

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Harlequins were swept away by Sarries a couple of weeks ago in front of over 60,000 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium but they recovered to beat Bath at the Stoop, albeit their winning margin was cut from 40-3 to 40-36 during a tense second half. They are at home again on Friday and Smith knows that will give them a head start.

Franco Smith has picked a strong Glasgow Warriors team.Franco Smith has picked a strong Glasgow Warriors team.
Franco Smith has picked a strong Glasgow Warriors team.

“They’re a good team, very well drilled, with some very good players,” said the Glasgow coach. “They’ve got a big ball carrier in Andre Esterhuizen, Marcus Smith offers a lot of flair and Danny Care is a threat in unstructured play and creates opportunities out of nothing. They’ve also got Tyrone Green who carries the ball well at 15 and is a hard character who I know from South Africa when he played for the Lions. He’s a difficult player to get to the floor. They’ve got some big ball carriers in the pack and a quality front row. They’re a very balanced all-round side and they’re going to be tough because they always play extraordinarily well at home.

“Yes, they gave some points away towards the end of the Bath game but the week before they lost by quite a big margin to Saracens and came back and scored 40 points in 45 minutes against Bath. They are a capable side with a strong maul and set-piece driven, so it’s a tough task ahead. I think we must travel there in the right frame of mind. We’ve got a lot of good structure in place and our processes are very well prepared, but it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it, and that’s the step up we need. We need to take the game towards them.”

It will be tight and may even require the two 10-minute periods of extra time which will be played in the event of a draw. But Smith’s Glasgow are a hardier proposition than they were under his predecessor and they have the gumption as well as the ability to carve out a bit of club history on Friday.

Harlequins v Glasgow Warriors: Investec Champions Cup round of 16, Twickenham Stoop, Friday, 8pm. TV: live on TNT Sports.

Harlequins: 15. Tyrone Green; 14. Louis Lynagh, 13. Oscar Beard, 12. Andre Esterhuizen, 11. Cadan Murley; 10. Marcus Smith, 9. Danny Care; 1. Fin Baxter, 2. Jack Walker, 3. Will Collier, 4. Irne Herbst, 5. George Hammond, 6. Stephan Lewies (capt), 7. Will Evans, 8. Alex Dombrandt.

Replacements: 16. Sam Riley, 17. Joe Marler, 18. Dillon Lewis, 19. Joe Launchbury, 20. Will Trenholm, 21. Tom Lawday, 22. Max Green, 23. Cameron Anderson.

Glasgow Warriors: 15 Josh McKay; 14 Kyle Steyn (capt), 13 Stafford McDowall, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Kyle Rowe; 10 Tom Jordan, 9 George Horne; 1 Nathan McBeth, 2 Johnny Matthews, 3 Zander Fagerson, 4 Max Williamson, 5 Scott Cummings, 6 Matt Fagerson, 7 Rory Darge, 8 Jack Dempsey.

Replacements: 16 Gregor Hiddleston, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Lucio Sordoni ,19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Ally Miller, 21 Henco Venter, 22 Jamie Dobie, 23 Duncan Weir.

Referee: Tual Trainini (Fra).



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