THERE is no shrinking away from reality – our opening Heineken Cup Pool Four game at Northampton is as vital as any game Glasgow Warriors have ever played in Europe.

We will be travelling to Franklin's Gardens to face the former European champions, the current English Premiership leaders and a side who, up until last weekend, were one of only two with an unbeaten record in European club rugby.

Obviously, this is a club I know well. I enjoyed two great seasons at Northampton and it is one of the great rugby grounds in the European game.

But this is the test we need right now to see how we measure against one of the best teams in Europe.

Northampton play a power game with a lot of that coming through their scrum and their driven lineouts. But they also have some very powerful ball carriers such as Courtney Lawes and big men at centre, so the physical contest will be a key aspect of the game.

But what we can't do is go there with a defensive mindset. We must play with the courage of our convictions.

Experience is going to be a key element, but my selection will be based on form so, as always, it is about getting a balance correct.

The importance of winning at Cardiff and giving us the momentum of a four-game winning run to springboard into the Heineken Cup is huge.

As usual, there will be selection dilemmas in terms of head-to-head competition for particular slots in the team.

Ofa Fainga'anuku and Niko Matawalu came on against Cardiff and did really well. But Josh Strauss now has a couple of games under his belt and is starting to make an impression. His work rate at the Arms Park was massive.

So the level of competition for places has undoubtedly made my job a hard one.

The format of the Heineken Cup is unique given each of the three parts of the group stage is played in two-game bursts.

After our Northampton opener on Sunday, we welcome Ulster – the RaboDirect PRO12 leaders – to Scotstoun just five days later.

So we know that it is imperative we take something from Northampton and simply must beat Ulster at our place.

Historically, Glasgow have not started well in the Heineken Cup and we have found ourselves under pressure after the opening two games, so that is something I am determined to avoid this time around.

All of which brings us back to Northampton on Sunday. This gives us the chance to set down a marker in Europe.

Glasgow have had some great results in Europe in the past and taken some big scalps, but if we could go to Franklin's Gardens and inflict a defeat on Northampton in the opening round of Heineken Cup fixtures it would be a result that would make the whole of Europe sit up and take notice.

I firmly believe we have it in us to do just that.