Glasgow Warriors co-captain Fraser Brown recognises that the kick-off of the United Rugby Championship (previously the PRO14) next weekend will be a step into the unknown after the addition this summer of four former Super Rugby franchises from South Africa – but he insists that his club will start the campaign expecting to be serious contenders for the title regardless of what the Cell C Sharks, Emirates Lions, DHL Stormers and Vodacom Bulls bring to the party. 

Warriors struggled through most of last season with a disrupted schedule, a budget-freeze and a debilitating injury list all conspiring against Danny Wilson’s side. However, they managed to build up a head of steam in the final few weeks of the campaign, with several youngsters coming of age. Now, after an aggressive summer recruitment drive, Brown believes the team are well placed to prove that they should be categorised amongst the top rank of clubs in the competition. 

“I guess the start of any league season is relatively unpredictable,” said the 32-year-old hooker. “From our point of view, we’ve had a good summer with a couple of new signings coming into the squad and the backroom, and everyone has fitted in really well. I think it is eight weeks we have been together now with a good couple hit outs now under our belt, so from our point of view we’re in a pretty good place. 

“Obviously, we’ve got a tough first three fixtures with Ulster away and then two South African teams [the Sharks and the Lions] coming to Scotstoun, so the proof is always going to be in the pudding, but we’re feeling confident. 

“There is always pressure there,” he added. “We have a lot of quality, high-profile players here, we have some very good staff and coaches as well, and we’re a club that expects to perform every season so that we are up near the top of the table competing for honours, but that should be a welcome pressure for everyone in the squad. 

“We’re not here to make up the numbers because every single year since I’ve been at Glasgow the aim has been to compete, to be at the top of the league when those play-offs come around, and it is no difference this year. 

“Although there was a lot of difficulties last year in how we could integrate people and how we operated as a squad to get our performance out there, I felt we were getting that right towards the end of the season, and we’ve tried to carry that through into this pre-season.” 

The truth is that the PRO14 has historically been viewed as the Cinderella league of European rugby, overshadowed by the ugly sisters of the English Premiership and the French Top 14.  

It has been a source of frustration and ridicule that the top sides in the competition such as seven-times champions Leinster have been able to cruise through league matches playing almost full reserve teams in order to keep their top players fresh for Europe. 

Brown reckons the addition of the four South African franchises will mean that is no longer the case. 

“We’ve always had some of the best teams in Europe compete – Leinster, Munster, ourselves and some of the Welsh regions – so to now have these south African teams littered with World Cup and Lions series winning stars is exciting for the whole league,” he said. “To have that level of competition raises the profile and the quality of the rugby every single weekend, and I think it is something we have really needed to try and keep that quality-level there week-in and week-out.” 

It might seem slightly odd that the four teams from Africa are going to have the chance to qualify to play in Europe next season, but Brown believes that allowing them to do so is vital to the credibility of the whole enterprise. 

“They are in our league, competing against us every week, so why shouldn’t they be able to play in the best competition in Europe, which is obviously the Champions Cup,” he reasoned. “I feel like it would be almost a cop-out if you said the best teams in the new United Rugby Championship weren’t able to compete in Europe’s best competition.  

“There is an added pressure there for the teams which have been in the league before because you are bringing in top quality teams who will be expecting to compete at the top of the competition, so you’re going to have to raise your level, and if you want to be playing in Europe then you have to be up there every weekend playing winning rugby. 

“So, it’s not a negative for me. I think the best teams in the best leagues should be playing in in the best competition in Europe.”