How far can they go? Charting Glasgow Warriors’ rise to European contenders

2nd in pool, 3rd in pool, 3rd in pool, 4th in pool. So reads Glasgow’s pool results in the last four European Champions Cup competitions. For too long, Glasgow (and Scottish Rugby in general) have languished in European domestic competition, being overcome by the might of bigger-spending clubs from England and France and lacking the ability to transform competitiveness at home into points won away. Thankfully, this season has seen Glasgow achieve their potential in European competition, with further opportunities lying ahead. It is not as if Glasgow have been determinedly second best in playing terms in the last four years, it is just that they have failed to hold their nerve when it counts, such as against Northampton in 2015-16 and Toulouse the year before that. In Leone Nakarawa, now of Racing 92 and Taqele Naiyarovoro, Glasgow had the quality needed to thrive in European competition, but the belief was lacking that they could actually stand toe-to-toe with European giants like or Racing or Leicester.

This year, Glasgow have made up for this slovenliness, beating Leicester home and away (including handing the Tigers their worst ever home loss, 0-43) and achieving the same feat against Dan Carter’s Racing. This is a vindication of the style of play employed by Gregor Townsend, in his last season as Warriors coach. In their most recent pummelling of Leicester, the variety his team offered in attack, whether through forcing penalty tries from mauls or slick backs moves give an accurate perception as to how far Glasgow have progressed since the turn of the decade. Their ability to play flowing rugby, with ball-playing forwards and devastating backs turned the Welford Road bastion into little more than a ruin.

A lot of credit also needs to go to the enigmatic fly half, Finn Russell, who did his chances of making the Lions squad no harm over the weekend. In terms of game management, he was sublime, running his backline with military precision, whilst exuding the dangerously Antipodean quality of appearing to have a limitless amount of time to think whilst on the ball. As it happened, he did not need razer-sharp wits to outwit a tired and bewildered Tigers outfit, but his efforts in forcing an early charge down and his willingness to let the forwards control the game owes itself to a thinking fly-half, not a lazy one.

How far can they go then? Conventional wisdom would suggest they will struggle against a Saracens outfit at Allianz Park bent on retaining their European Crown. However Sarries have not been at their best in recent games and have a escalating injury list including indispensable forward tyros Billy and Mako Vunipola. The London club will also likely be fighting hard on all fronts by early April, whilst Glasgow might see their form slip during the Six Nations, allowing either the Scarlets or Ulster to take the fourth place position they currently occupy in the Pro12. Either way, it will be a titanic conquest between two differing rugby ideologies, one built upon forward power and a tactical kicking game, the other on out-and-out attack and the quick redistribution of the ball.

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