Gregor Townsend on Glasgow’s Euro clash with Bath

EXCITEMENT has been building for a while now about the opening game of our campaign in the inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup against Bath on Saturday. Playing at home makes the game an even more special occasion.

Bath winger Semesa Rokodugini, driving forward against Wasps last Sunday, has been in great form this season. Picture: Getty

For the last two seasons we have started our European campaigns with away fixtures, at Northampton and Toulon respectively, so it is a huge plus that we are at Scotstoun for our opening game, in our first start on home soil since, ironically, we played Bath at Firhill, back in 2011.

We managed a win that day, so let’s hope that’s a good omen for this weekend!

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But the fact we have a Scotstoun tie to open European rugby’s premier competition, against one of the best teams in England, is something that will really energise our supporters and create an excellent atmosphere at Scotstoun on Saturday.

With the transition of the tournament from the previous 24-team format of the Heineken Cup to a 20-side competition, the quality level has been increased.

This means that the games will be even tougher, but there is the added incentive that there’s an extra qualification place available for the knock-out stages with the third-best pool runner-up making it through to the last eight.

Obviously we were disappointed to lose at Ulster last weekend but I believe that match was the perfect preparation for Saturday’s tie with Bath.

We knew that the trip to the Kingspan Stadium and our two European Rugby Champions Cup ties with Bath and Montpellier would provide us with hugely testing games against three of the leading teams in Europe.

The great thing for us is that, although we lost our unbeaten record in the Guinness Pro12 at Ulster, we have been able to learn vital lessons from that game that can stand us in good stead for the visit of Bath in 48 hours’ time.

As a coaching and playing group, we learned how a few tactical adjustments would have built more pressure on the opposition at crucial times of the match. It was very pleasing to see the physicality and energy we displayed, but we just didn’t make the most of this effort against Ulster, who were excellent in defence and exploited any errors in a clinical fashion.

It was a high-intensity game and in terms of territory and possession, there wasn’t much separating the two sides. As is often the case in these highly competitive games, a key element in deciding the outcome of the match was discipline. We lost the penalty count 12-7, and this allowed Ulster to build a lead without spending that much time in our half.

We recognise that Ulster did gain success from their driving mauls, with one leading to a penalty, while the way they set-up a driving maul from phase play was novel to us this season and inventive from them. However, as the game developed, we were increasingly effective defending against the maul.

Similarly in the scrum we allowed Ulster to get points on the board from penalty kicks, but again grew stronger in that respect as the game developed.

The scrum and line-out maul are strong weapons for Bath, and we are well aware that we will have to improve in both these areas this weekend.

We have watched Bath in-depth over a number of weeks and they are a team who are built on traditional English fundamentals such as set-piece accuracy and forward power, as well as a strong kicking game. In addition to this, they have a very ambitious gameplan, and like to attack through their backs from almost anywhere and play with real flair.

Their fly-half George Ford has a fantastic variety to his kicking and the key tenet behind his work with the boot is that he wants his side to have every chance to win the ball back as often as possible.

The Bath centre pairing of Kyle Eastmond and Jonathan Joseph is one of the most exciting in the English Premiership right now and their Fijian-born winger Semesa Rokodugini has been in great form.

All of which underlines the importance of our ability to have learned the lessons of that defeat in Belfast and make sure we defend very well for 80 minutes.

With a big and passionate Glasgow support behind us at Scotstoun on Saturday we will be doing everything we can to make our supporters proud, take the game to our opponents and get off to the best possible start in the European Rugby Champions Cup.