Gregor Townsend knows that his unfinished business at Glasgow Warriors is Europe, and despite the toughest group the club have faced he believes they can take the step into the quarter-finals this year.
Last year a flat performance at home to Northampton left the Warriors chasing qualification but they almost snatched it in the return match against the Saints before losing a last minute try.
This year the Leicester Tigers come to Scotstoun as part of a brutal group that also includes last year’s beaten finalists Racing and twice-champions Munster, but Townsend believes any group in the European Rugby Champions Cup would be as tough.
“No matter who it is, you’ve got to play your best in all six group games,” he said. “You can maybe afford to drop one but two and you can be struggling.
“We might play our best and now win some of these games, that is the reality.
“But we all want success in Europe.It was one of the first things said after the PRO12 semi-final last year; next year, we have to do better in Europe.”
Tim Swinson’s return from injury was an absolute must given Glasgow’s issues with second row absentees at present. The Scotland lock will add a bit of dig that’s been missing from the pack and also is a key man at defending mauls – a Leicester staple and certain to be writ large in their gameplan given the Warriors’ struggles in this area against Ulster and in Europe last year.
However it seems every time there is a plus for Townsend it comes with a minus, this time it being the absence of the prolific Tommy Seymour with a back problem. Rory Hughes will make his European debut on the left wing.
“We were wondering if Tim was going to be right and then he started tackling people in a non-tackling session and we thought “he seems to be okay”,” said Townsend. “Last week we had to call Rob McAlpine from club rugby and convert Rob Harley, so the knowledge we have Tim and Jonny (Gray) to go up against a big pack will help us a lot.”
The gap in resources is illustrated by Leicester giving a debut to Wallabies stand-off/centre Matt Toomua, one of Townsend’s favourite players.
“He is aggressive in defence, he can play 10 or 12 and can make things happen around him. He can also move the ball,” said the coach.
“But he has not played for a few weeks, he has obviously not played for Leicester yet so we will have to make sure that we put not just him, but all that Leicester team under pressure so that they don’t get a chance to play the way they want to play.”
Townsend is confident last year’s false start against Northampton was a one-off.
“We got our players back from the World Cup two weeks before the Northampton game, and the week before we had the game called off in Paris,” he pointed out.
“We’ve prepared really well this week, we’ve spent more time together than we would normally, and the training has been at a high level in terms of quality and intensity.
So it’s now up to the players to go and grab this opportunity – opening game of the Champions Cup, playing at home – it’s a fantastic occasion.
“Last two years we’ve had three wins, with close defeats to Bath and Northampton.
“We’ve got to be better. It will come down to key moments discipline-wise.
“Magic moments would be great, but it’s more the moments when we force penalties, or are really strong in discipline and don’t give away any penalties.”
Glasgow: S Hogg; L Sarto, A Dunbar, S Johnson, R Hughes; F Russell, H Pyrgos; G Reid, F Brown, Z Fagerson; T Swinson, J Gray; R Harley, R Wilson, J Strauss.
Replacements: P MacArthur, A Allan, S Puafisi, M Fagerson, L Wynne, A Price, M Bennett, S Lamont.