The man who got the Glasgow ball rolling back in 2015 is hungry for a second winner’s medal as he prepares for Saturday’s Guinness Pro14 final against Leinster at Celtic Park.
Rob Harley’s early strike on that famous night in Belfast four years ago set the tone as Gregor Townsend’s Warriors became the first Scottish pro team to win a major honour as they defeated Munster 31-13 at the Kingspan to lift the then Pro12 title.
Harley got on the end of the first of many magical Leone Nakarawa offloads in the opening minutes to crash over and set up a platform for what became a glory day in Scottish rugby history.
“It was great. I remember it well,” said the 28-year-old. “I think Leone burst through about five or six tacklers and just passed to me when everyone else was beaten, so it wasn’t much to do with me.
“It was a great score. That day we had tremendous travelling support, and that’ll only be greater now that we’re playing at Glasgow.”
Harley is hoping that Glasgow approach this Saturday with the same free spirit they did in 2015 and that they can grasp the occasion by the scruff of the neck.
“It’ll be trying to perform the way that we can, and we need quick ball to be able to stress teams, so we’re not afraid to play,” he explained. “And if we see space, we have the runners who can hurt teams from anywhere on the park.”
Harley, who can also play second row, was on the scoresheet again in the No 6 jersey he wore in the Belfast final as Glasgow thumped Ulster 50-20 in this season’s semi-final. He knows the Warriors will rely a few new faces to assist the class of 2015 as they bid to realise the dream of a second title in their home city.
“It’s hard to judge the teams [2015 and 2019] against each other. I think what we have are guys who played across both teams,” said the man with 21 Scotland caps.
“There are guys who remember the feeling of being the final and having that big pressure game. Last time we were in that situation we managed to play well and were uninhibited so we’ve been training this week, making sure we’re sharp and hitting our stride on Saturday.”
The man from Milngavie, who signed pro for Glasgow in 2010 straight from Douglas Academy as a product of West of Scotland RFC, has since gone on to become the Warriors’ most-capped player, chalking up his 200th appearance this season.
As a local man and club stalwart he admits that this Saturday, with over 40,000 tickets already sold, will carry a special resonance.
“Yes, it’s great to play in Glasgow. It was special for the semi-final [against Ulster last Friday], having built up a few extra stands and that bit of extra noise,” he said. “The crowd was driving us from the first minute, They got engaged and excited and it pulled us through the whole game. So I think that’s something we can look forward to.”
Following the controversial remarks of Leinster boss Leo Cullen about Glasgow players being Rangers fans, Harley revealed he had been to watch games at Celtic Park but would not claim to be a fan of the Parkhead side, taking the middle ground.
“No, I would not. Thistle,” he said with a smile.
“I’ve been once or twice to watch games [at Celtic Park], but I watched most of my football at Firhill, where we [Warriors] used to play [before the move to Scotstoun in 2012]. I’ve been [to Celtic], it’s a great stadium and it’s exciting to think of it being packed out with our supporters. Quite a few of my [Thistle] friends used to say we were ruining the [Firhill] pitch by tearing it up with the rugby studs!
“I think the big thing is we’re in Glasgow and we’ll pack it out with our fans, and it’s exciting that it’s going to be our home fans.”
Saturday’s match will be a farewell to Stuart Hogg, who joined the Warriors around the same time as Harley.
“In a lot of ways he’s irreplaceable because of the talent he has, but also the energy,” said the flanker of the star full-back.
“He’ll be the first guy to say he’s not always positive, he gets stroppy, but it’s because he wants to win every game we’re playing, that includes football games or even if we’re just kicking a tennis ball around, he wants to win.
“That’s a big thing in our squad, it drives the winning mentality. It’s a huge loss for us but hopefully we’ll sent him off with the right note.”