AT 24, Adam Ashe is a bit young to be regarded as one of the senior statesmen of the Glasgow side, especially given the amount of rugby he has missed through injury over the past couple of seasons. But it is a role that the No 8 will have to take on today, as a relatively inexperienced Warriors team meet Leinster in the Champions Cup.
Let’s be blunt: Ashe and his colleagues could well be on a hiding to nothing. They have lost all four of their pool games so far, while Leinster, always formidable at home, have won all four of theirs and have the incentive of a quarter-final place to secure. If Glasgow keep the scale of defeat within respectable limits, it will be a moral victory of sorts. If they achieve an actual victory, it will be one of the upsets of the season.
Needless to say, Ashe is approaching this afternoon’s game in a far more optimistic frame of mind. This will be his first start since being sidelined for 10 weeks with an ankle injury, so he feels fresh physically, and mentally he is as upbeat as ever. He knows that Leinster may well try and steamroll Glasgow up front, and he knows his team are real underdogs; but he welcomes the challenge, and pointed out that he and his team-mates had been working hard on the areas of the game where they are seen to be most vulnerable.
“To be honest, at training we’ve been bloody hammering the mauls,” he said. “The forward pack have been doing a lot of maul work in training and hopefully we can go out there and show that we’ve been putting in a bit of work there and do some good stuff on the pitch. I think we have a young team full of energy and excitement out there, so defensively at the contact point we can just fire in and get stuck in.
“I know at our best we can match any team physically, so I think it’s just a case of going out there and doing it. We know it’s an area to work on, and I think we have been doing that, so hopefully we can reap the rewards and go out there and put in a physical performance. Certainly we know that Leinster keep the ball for a lot of phases, build a lot of pressure on you, so defence is going to be massive this week.
“We’ve been looking at getting really physical; we’ve had some good training sessions. It’s almost been like a week of pre-season, a lot of training, long sessions, a lot of contact – it’s been a good week and we’re all looking forward to it.”
With Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Finn Russell and Jonny Gray all sitting this one out, the Warriors are short of top-level experience in most departments, but perhaps nowhere more so than in the back row, where Ashe has 19-year-old Matt Fagerson on one side of him and 21-year-old Matt Smith on the other. So is the oldest member of the trio suddenly feeling his age?
“We were kind of joking about that,” he said. “I said to the two other back-rowers there ‘I’m like the old wise man in here and I’m only bloody 24 years old’. It’s nice to be playing with two young spring chickens, two really athletic players, and it’s going to be exciting. I’m really looking forward to it: I think it’s the first time I’ve played with both of them at the same time, so it’s going to be good.
“I’m going to be out there doing my thing, pushing the young fellas on, telling them to express themselves and back themselves, go out there and play the free-est rugby and have a good game. I guess that’s going to be part of my role this weekend – making sure the boys are ready to go and rip into it.”
If Ashe puts in an outstanding performance, not only as an individual but also in terms of his leadership, he may find he has done enough to get into Gregor Townsend’s Scotland squad which is due to be announced on Tuesday. He believes he would do himself justice if selected, but insisted that his primary focus had to be getting it right against Leinster and only then seeing what might arise.
“I’d be good to go. I never actually knew the team was getting announced on Tuesday, but I’m back training fully with the team, played 60 minutes at the weekend, so here’s hoping I get some good time this weekend and then from there we’ll see what happens. We’ve just got to go out and play and hopefully put in a good shift as a team and keep building towards the end of the season for the league.”