Stakes high as Tim Swinson targets history with Glasgow in Europe

Glasgow Warriors players
Tim Swinson, centre, and Glasgow warmed up for their meeting with Munster by beating Cardiff
European Champions Cup: Glasgow Warriors v Munster
Venue: Scotstoun Stadium Date: Saturday, 14 January Kick-off: 17:30 GMT
Coverage: Follow on BBC Radio Scotland 810 MW, BBC 5 live Sports Extra, digital and BBC Sport website

Tim Swinson signed a new contract with Glasgow during the week, three more years at Scotstoun for the 29-year-old lock forward or, as he put it, "a suspension of the day when I have to figure out what to do with the rest of my life".

Forget the rest of it, all he needs to figure out right now is what he's going to do with himself at the weekend, or more to the point, what he is going to do on Saturday evening when Munster come to town for a Champions Cup match that's probably the pick of round five of European rugby's pre-eminent tournament.

He rubs his eyes when talking about the importance of this contest and rubs them again when speaking of the first meeting in Limerick back in October.

'It was a cauldron'

That was the weekend when Munster buried their coach, Anthony Foley, on the Friday afternoon, and then, on a wave of brilliance and togetherness, dismantled Glasgow at Thomond Park 24 hours later.

A red card for Keith Earls after just 19 minutes and, yet, four home tries - it could have been more - 38 home points - it could have been higher - 61% home possession, 63% home territory, 100% home joy - with 14 men.

"In a week, you saw the best of Glasgow rugby, when we could do nothing wrong against Leicester (they walloped the Tigers 42-13), and the worst, when Munster came out and put us in our place," says Swinson.

Glasgow and Racing players
Glasgow have three wins out of four so far in the Champions Cup

"I'd played there before, but it was never like that. It felt like the supporters knew all the players personally. It was a cauldron. It was very powerful. In the atmosphere, Munster got on the front foot and when that happens they're exceptionally good at putting that foot on your throat. We were really angry that we let that happen to us."

Glasgow were over-powered in Limerick in every single aspect, an inferiority that was as emphatic as it was rare, almost freakishly so. The pack were coursed around Thomond Park. Swinson admits to feeling "a little bit off" even before the first whistle sounded.

They are now approaching the crossroads of what has been an otherwise excellent campaign.

If they win on Saturday they are in contention for a place in the quarter-finals for the first time in their history.

Lose and they would need to go to Welford Road and win in the hope of bagging one of the three best runners-up slots. The head-wrecking aspect comes with the fact that Leicester have lost just one European match at home since 2006.

"We need to win both of them, ideally," says Swinson. "That's what we're looking at.

Champions Cup Pool 1
Racing 9240400

"Munster will be very physical and very passionate. They don't really want to trick you. They won't have many surprises. They'll do what they do and they're pretty good at it.

"Big ball-carriers (CJ Stander has 15 more carries than any other player in the competition), excellent defence (they've shipped fewest points of any side and are the only team to concede less than one try per game), very direct, loads of aggression, good leaders. They know what they're going to do and they're going to back themselves to do it well enough so that we can't stop it.

"It'll be a physical, defensive game, all about contact. That's what we've talked about this week. It's not just about the personal match-ups, it's about getting momentum, it's about really putting pressure on them rather than trying to absorb their pressure."

Glasgow chase European dream

In Swinson's words and body language you can see the longing at Scotstoun to finally make a breakthrough to the holy land of Europe's last eight. They're good enough. They just need to show it now that the heat is truly on.

"You see the work that's gone on here over the years, the work put in by [head coach] Gregor [Townsend] and the coaching staff," says Swinson. "It's detail, detail, detail. Because of my surname I end up sitting beside Gregor and Matt [Taylor, his assistant] on away trips and it's just amazing the work they do.

"Matt has a bag full of hard drives and I'm certain he could pull out a Super Rugby game from whatever year and tell you all about it.

"Himself and Gregor are constantly reading books about coaches and coaching techniques. John Wooden, the great UCLA coach, Bill Parcells in the NFL, any top American coach, they've read their book. Every away trip, there's a new book. They have a huge thirst for information and ideas.

"Europe is a tough place. The Champions Cup is the elite. It's not supposed to be easy, it's as close as you can get to international rugby with your club. The game against Munster will have the intensity of a Test match. There's so much at stake. Both teams are desperate for it."

Leicester and Munster players
Leicester and Munster stand between Glasgow and the quarter-finals

Swinson's life so far has taken him from London, his place of birth, to Peterborough, where he went to school and discovered rugby, to Sydney, where he worked in a coffee shop for a year, to Newcastle, where he played for the Falcons and studied politics.

That's a degree he may fall back on and, boy, there's an interest there. Swinson would merrily talk about Brexit or the breakdown, take your pick. He'll talk about Trump or the new tackle law, whatever tickles your fancy.

Before the UK went to the polls in June, Swinson sent an email to his team-mates at Glasgow containing information - for remain and for leave - that he pleaded with them to read before the referendum. He didn't care much how they voted, but stressed the importance of voting.

Before the Scottish independence referendum two years earlier he hung on every word of the politics professor that Glasgow brought in to address the squad and explain the key points for the yes and no campaigns.

"We would have had a vote among the squad, but the feeling was that it would be too divisive," explains Swinson.

"Politics is an area I'm interested in, but it's a very polarising world and I don't know where I'd fit in. Thankfully, I don't have to worry about it for while yet, until I'm too old for rugby - and too broken."

He can't break on Saturday, not if Glasgow are to hold out hope of bringing down one of Europe's form teams and motoring on to fulfil the dream they've all held for so long.

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