Pity the poor players who scarcely have time to draw breath before they are thrown into the next big round of matches. The autumn international series only ended last weekend, or yesterday if you turn out for England, and next weekend sees the return of Challenge and Champions Cup action.
Both Edinburgh and Glasgow face French opposition in back-to-back matches that will go a long way to determining their respective European campaigns, Edinburgh host Stade Francais at Murrayfield while Glasgow travel to Paris where last year’s beaten finalists, Racing’92, await them complete, with Dan Carter pulling the strings at ten and Leone Nakarawa weaving his magic in the second row.
The two teams met last season. Racing won in Stade Yves du Manoir, the old stadium in Colombes where Eric “the Flying Scotsman” Liddell did his stuff. Glasgow won the rematch but by the final game in the pool the die was already cast; the Warriors could not qualify, Racing could not fail to do so.
Chris Masoe, who Glasgow once tried to sign, was named man of the match. Nakarawa scored Glasgow’s only try and so impressed the French club they bought the big Fijian out of his contract. Oh, and a young, nervous scrum-half by the name of Ali Price made his bow on the European stage
“Next week we go back there and I’ve obviously been in that situation before so it is not going to be a shock to me,” says a cheery Price, who made his international debut against Georgia and managed to impress in the seven minutes he was granted.
“That was my first European game and I didn’t quite know how I would go against better at a tougher level, so I go into it a much more confident player and that is a big thing as a nine, that confidence to take my quick taps … to drive the team.
“They are a good side. If we match them physically, with our backline and the way the guys played for Scotland through the international window, I think we can cause them huge trouble. They’ve got a big pack, so if we can move them around I’m sure we’ll be able to score tries.
“We are really targeting Europe this year, we’re obviously wanting to make it out our pool for the first time so the back-to-back games are huge. We’d love to go over to Racing and win, and then the home tie in front of a sold-out crowd would be fantastic, giving us the momentum to go into the Edinburgh game and the New Year.”
“If we can match them physically” ... that is the key question that Price correctly identified because Glasgow utterly failed to do so last season when the teams met in the same tournament. Racing’s four-try haul in Paris all came from forwards, three of which were the result of driven mauls, while the fourth came from Kiwi prop Ben Tameifuna, whose 135kgs on the charge is the nearest thing in sport to an unstoppable force.
Glasgow had no answer to the Frenchmen’s power that day and while they have tamed the Leicester Tiger since then, the English animal is pretty toothless compared to some of the big spenders at the interesting end of French Top 14.
What Glasgow must do is rely upon speed of thought and action, which is where Price comes into his own. Of a size with Greig Laidlaw, he lacks the Scotland skipper’s game management but, a little like Mike Blair used to do, the little scrum-half has the priceless ability to inject pace into a game and he pays tribute to Blair in helping him get where he is today. (He doesn’t mention it but an injury to Henry Pyrgos, Glasgow co-captain, is just as crucial.)
“We’ve all got different strengths,” says Price. “One of my strengths I like to think is my running and the speed I can put on to the ball. I guess I work at that quite a lot. It is my point of difference I’d say. But it is down to the coach and the opposition we are playing as to what he wants. I’m always looking at Henry and Greig as to how they control and lead the game, because I feel that is an area I can still really improve on.”
His point and his pace could not have been better illustrated than on Friday night when Price picked an angle from a stolen lineout inside Munster’s 22 and left three defenders trailing in his wake as he hit the afterburners for a humdinger of a try.
Price is an exile, originally from Norfolk, a near neighbour of England nine Ben Youngs. His mother is Scottish and it was always at the back of his mind to give something back to her. Job done.
He was playing for the Bedford Blues academy team against a team from Cambridge University when he was approached by one of the exile scouts and things took off from there. He sat out one U20s World Championships, but played most games in another which is when Gregor Townsend offered him a deal and stuck with the little nine despite Price suffering a serious knee injury shortly after joining the Warriors.
Despite Scotland’s relative strength in depth at nine, which will be even more impressive when Sam Hidalgo-Clyne recovers his mojo, Price has come a long way in a short time. But a little like his team, he has another big jump to make if Glasgow are to beat Racing in Paris after losing three league matches in a row, including Friday’s nail-biter against Munster.
“I know we lost, but our performance over the last three games was a lot better,” argues Price. “We are disappointed, but building on that second-half performance, if we play like that then we can go to Paris and get a win.
“There were a lot of positives in the second half and we started to look like our old selves. We bring back more boys from internationals next week, which will further enhance the competition for places and we’ll be raring to go come Saturday.”