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Glasgow embarked on their European journey with a record win

Alasdair Reid
Rugby reporter
Saturday 12 October 2013
As Glasgow Warriors head to the south of France for tomorrow's glamour clash with Heineken Cup champions Toulon in the Stade Mayol, their supporters can reflect on a decade and-a-half in which their club has graced most of the great cathedrals of European rugby.

From Cardiff to Castres, from Belfast to Biarritz, Warriors have criss-crossed the continent, clocking up the miles on their European adventures. They have played in stadiums with names that resonate around the rugby world: Leicester's Welford Road; the Stade Ernest Wallon in Toulouse; Clermont's Stade Marcel Michelin; the Welfare Ground in Newbridge.

Spot the odd one out? It's not exactly difficult. Yet Newbridge, a village of barely 6000 souls that sits in the valley of the Ebbw river, around 15 miles north of Cardiff, carries the distinction of being the place where Glasgow played their very first competitive European game. It was 12 October 1996 and they beat the Welsh outfit 62-38.

Not surprisingly, it is still their highest score in Europe. Moreover, Derek Stark's feat of scoring four tries that day has never been matched at the same level. But as comprehensive as the victory was, it was to be Glasgow's only success in a campaign that was followed by four straight defeats, as they fell to Agen, Montferrand [now Clermont], Sale Sharks and Newport.

"The Welsh outfit, languishing at the foot of the first division, could hardly be regarded as top class opposition," intoned one assessment in The Herald a few days later. Another pointed out that injuries had robbed Newbridge of their three best players, their entire coaching team had resigned a fortnight earlier, and they had just lost seven games on the trot, shipping more than 60 points in three of them.

And while Glasgow had finally dipped their toe in the European water, it wasn't the pond they had in mind. Six months earlier, after an acrimonious battle over whether clubs or districts should represent Scotland in Europe, the SRU nominated Edinburgh and the South, or Scottish Borders, as two of their three sides in the Heineken Cup.

The one remaining place was to be decided in a play-off between Glasgow and the North and Midlands. And the North and Midlands - Caledonia as they would soon be renamed - won. Glasgow's consolation was a place in the inaugural European Conference, a competition dreamt up to appease English and French demands for more European places.

"We were really disappointed to be in the lower tier tournament," recalls Fergus Wallace, who played against Newbridge that day. "We thought at the time that Scottish rugby was pretty strong, and there was a real buzz about the sport. It was exciting to be involved in any European competition. But, to be honest, I don't remember much about the game at all.

"We really didn't know what we were getting into back then," says Stark, who would win seven caps between 1993 and 1997. "The game had gone professional the year before and the SRU had just signed 50 of us on full-time contracts. It was a big time for rugby in general, but we were really all in the dark about how it would work out.

"It was a scary time, especially for guys who had given up jobs to become pro players. But everyone wanted to be part of it. It was a turbulent time for the sport and nobody really knew what kind of European competition we were going to have. Although, I suppose you could say the same today with all the stuff that's going on now.

"I wasn't too bothered that we were only playing Newbridge. They might not have been the biggest side in Europe, but they had a good little ground and their supporters were really passionate.

"There's a lot of rugby knowledge down there. I can remember stewards coming up to myself and Kenny Logan and asking us to sign international programmes for them. We had never experienced things like that in Scotland."

As well as Logan and Stark, the Glasgow team also contained Glenn Metcalfe, who had only recently arrived from New Zealand, and the 21-year-old Gordon Bulloch, still uncapped but captain of the side. Their play was "fluid and adventurous" according to one report on the game, but another conceded that there were significant shortcomings in terms of physique, defensive organisation and knowledge of the opposition.

Glasgow's coach Kevin Greene admitted: "We had no information at all on Newbridge. We should at least have had some data and perhaps even a video, but the SRU had nothing. It made preparation very awkward."

Stark, however, had particular reason to be pleased with his contribution. "Kenny and I were both vying for the same position in the Scotland team at the time," he explained. "There was a real battle going on there. I think he got a couple of tries, but he must have been really pissed off when I got four."

This article was posted on 12-Oct-2013, 09:55 by Hugh Barrow.

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