ANYONE looking for a bit of perspective on Glasgow Warriors’ present difficulties would be well advised to have a chat with Rob Harley. The 28-year-old, who will, if selected, make his 200th appearance for the team on Sunday against Cardiff, has been around long enough to remember times that were far more trying than the current one. Times when three wins on the trot would be the rarity, not the three losses – home and away to Edinburgh then against Benetton last weekend – that have supposedly provoked a crisis at Scotstoun.
Granted, the team need to regain their form quickly if they are to complete the job of qualifying for the Champions Cup quarter-finals for only the second time – and to do that they will need cool heads and calm minds. Which is where Harley comes in. Having been with Glasgow since the summer of 2010, the lock-cum-blindside is able to remind himself of the broader picture: that, while there have been bad spells down the years, the prevailing direction of travel has been upwards.
“In terms of lowlights, my first season was very hard,” Harley said when asked to pick out both the highs and lows from his eight and a bit years as a Warrior. “We finished second bottom in the league and we lost an awful lot.
“It was hard to come into that, but as a squad we kinda looked at that and we said, ‘We’re not doing what we have to do. We have to make a massive change in order to achieve things’. And fortunately since then we have turned it around.”
The turnaround began also immediately. The season after finishing 11th, Glasgow came fourth, reaching the play-offs in what was then the PRO12. They lost the semi-final that year and the following one, then were runners-up, and then finally won the title in 2014-15, beating Munster in a final that, unsurprisingly, remains one of Harley’s most cherished playing memories.
“There’s a lot of highlights, particularly winning the league. I think on those games everything went well for us. We played great defence. Naksi [Leone Nakarawa] was absolutely electric. I scored, but he beat about six defenders and then just passed the ball to me. So, yeah, I think a lot of the time with the squad training here, it’s been great, especially where we came from, at Whitecraigs, training spread everywhere, to having a dedicated facility.”
Having made his 100th appearance against Leinster in September 2014, Harley went on to surpass Graeme Morrison’s record of games for Glasgow last year, and the way things are going might well reach the 300 mark before he decides to call it a day. But, rather than dwell on any such personal achievement, his focus at the weekend will be to help his team achieve a victory which will take them into the last eight two seasons since they last made it.
“It is a big milestone and it’s a measure of achievement, of being one of the best clubs in Europe,” he continued. “That drives us to go on. We have a chance again this year to go on and do that, so it is a driver for us.
“We’ve not played very well in the last few league games, so that gives us a challenge of finding form again, I guess. But it’s reassuring that we have that European success under our belt, so it’s definitely achievable for us, it’s just sorting out small details and making sure we’re turning that into a good performance at Scotstoun.
“I think there’s frustration at the way we’ve played the last few weeks, and we know there’s a lot of work for us on what we’ve got to do and how we’ve got to improve. But because we are in a good position in Europe that just means that [qualification] is within reach for us and on Sunday we’re going to try and bring that out.
“We have had a very good record at home. I’m sure Cardiff know that, but they’ve got quality players through the side, they’ve got a number of threats and there’s going to be pressure on us to shut them down.”