It is possible to lose your opening two games in Europe and still qualify for the quarter-finals – Scarlets reached the semis last year after opening their campaign with two defeats – but Dave Rennie will not want to test the theory. After coming away pointless after that opening loss to Saracens, Glasgow go into this afternoon’s match against Cardiff with the whiff of desperation in the air.
“‘We obviously don’t want to put pressure on ourselves,” says centre Sam Johnson before acknowledging the inevitable, “but if you lose this game, then you’re probably out of Europe. We know it’ll be difficult. We put on a good show against Saracens last week but, at the end of the day, we still lost so we obviously want to rectify that. We’ll go out there and look to rip into Cardiff. It’s important that we play positively.”
Johnson is very much the coming man, the Australian-born player having been included in the latest Scotland squad for the first time after qualifying for his adopted country under the three-year residency rule.
He was selected for Glasgow ahead of Alex Dunbar, the man he replaces today, on merit last season although the causes are more mundane this time. Dunbar took a head knock against Sarries and Johnson, only recently recovered from the same injury, has recovered just in time to make his first start of the season.
“Yeah, it’s obviously a nice confidence boost,” says Johnson on his elevation to the national squad. “It’s unfortunate for Alex to have picked up a head knock last week but that’s the way sport works. One guy drops out and another guy gets an opportunity.
“I have been working hard during my recovery and it’s nice to have the trust of the coach to go straight back in. I’m looking forward to it. It was obviously frustrating having to sit out the first few weeks. I just tried to stay positive and look at it as an extended pre-season. It would be nice to stay injury-free now and get a bit of consistency into my game.
“When I first came over a few years ago, it [Scotland] wasn’t even in my mind. But in the summer it obviously became more realistic..”
Johnson will have his hands full this afternoon because the threat from Cardiff comes from the twin centres who, despite being from different nations, dovetail together dangerously. Willis Halaholo is a Kiwi second five eighth who helped the Hurricanes to their first ever Super Rugby title in 2016. Outside him is Rey Lee-lo who Scotland fans will remember all too vividly because the Samoan carved their side open repeatedly during RWC’15, scoring one try himself, setting up another.
Despite going no better than 50 per cent in the day job, Cardiff scalped the Top 14 leaders Lyon last weekend in France, one of the shock results of the opening round of Champions Cup ties. Was Johnson surprised by the Blues victory?
“A little bit,” he replies. “The French fans demand to see their team win every game on home turf so it’s always a little bit of a surprise when anyone goes over there and wins. They’ll take confidence from it.
“We have a good record against Cardiff but they had a great victory last week so we know they’re going to come flying at us. They’ll have the home crowd behind them and will be really fired up. It’s up to us to match it… and then some.”