IT is going to be do or die time for Glasgow Warriors this afternoon at Cardiff Arms Park. Dave Rennie’s men demonstrated against Saracens last Sunday that they can compete with the best at the highest level of European club rugby, but the harsh reality of professional sport is that being competitive is not enough. Results matter.
Having lost at home, Warriors quite simply need to win on the road against the Blues to keep control of their European destiny this season. It is definitely a winnable match, but the Warriors are going to have to match the intensity they showed last week against Saracens, and also be more clinical – maybe even cynical – to get the result they need.
The Blues surf into this match on the back of a wave of optimism created by last weekend’s victory away to Lyon.
Here are five key match-ups which will be crucial to how this match pans out –
OLI KEBBLE versus DILLON LEWIS
As impressive as the Blues performance was in Lyon last weekend, the one area where they did look exposed was at scrum time, and with the Warriors pack going a long way to proving against Saracens that their tight game has moved on significantly since being made to look lightweight when the pressure was really on last season, they are bound to target the set-piece when they rock up at the Arms Park this afternoon.
South African Kebble is clearly enjoying getting some game time under his belt after a frustrating, injury-ravaged first season at the Warriors, and he will be looking to put Blues tight-head Lewis under pressure when they lock horns.
NICK WILLIAMS versus MATT FAGERSON
Injury has deprived the Blues of Josh Navidi but they have a pretty formidable replacement in the shape of giant New Zealander Nick Williams , and USA internationalist, cousin to Sonny Bill and the PRO12 (as it was then known) player of the season in 2013. He is a giant of a man at 6ft 3ins and 20st 7lbs, and is now 34-years-old.
Williams is up against a very different sort of a beast in 20-year-old, 6ft 1ins and 15st 6lbs Fagerson, who is perhaps built more like an open-side flanker but has the footwork and explosiveness with the ball in hand to have earned the Warriors number eight jersey ahead of two bigger and more experienced contenders in Adam Ashe (not involved this week) and club captain Ryan Wilson (shifted to blindside flanker).
Williams brings serious bulk and power, but whether he has the legs and the stamina to be a real influence in a game which is going to be played at breakneck speed will be key, although when he does run out of gas there is another muscular and seasoned campaigner ready to take over in the shape of 33-year-old former Northampton Saints and Toulon player Samu Manoa – who has played only 18-minutes off the bench last week since joining the region during the summer. At 6ft 6ins and 19st 3lbs, the USA internationalist will be looking to bring a bit of punch to proceedings when he gets his next chance.
JARROD EVANS versus ADAM HASTINGS
Born three months apart, the two number tens played against each other in the 7th/8th place play-off in the Junior World Championship in Manchester in 2016. Wales were emphatic 42-6 winners that day, with their playmaker scoring the third of the team’s six tries and kicking five from five off the tee.
Evans had played 17 games for the Blues during the previous season, while Hastings had managed two Premiership appearances for Bath in the English Premiership. The Scots playmaker moved to Warriors in the summer of 2017, and after a year picking up game time as Finn Russell’s understudy he has stepped up to the mark as the team’s chief playmaker this season with all the natural self-confidence you would expect from a player of his family pedigree.
Despite his novice status, Hastings made it on Scotland’s last summer tour, picking up his first three caps on that trip. Evans, meanwhile, was thought to be well in the frame to tour with Wales last summer, but missed out on that three match series against South Africa and Argentina (twice) when club-mate Gareth Anscombe got the nod as back up to Rhys Patchell – which, more than anything else, should be regarded as evidence of the difference in strength in depth between the two countries.
Anscombe started this season as first choice 10 at the Blues but was shifted to 15 last week to accommodate Evans, and the team’s all-action performance suggests that this approach might be the best way forward.
Hastings has a tendency to blow very hot and very cold, as was demonstrated during his 80-turbulent minutes at Scotstoun last weekend, when he missed a must-score penalty at goal fairly early on and didn’t boss the game like you would hope from an international class number ten – but he showed the value of his maverick instincts when he sniffed out a gap straight off scrum ball to split Saracens’ defence wide open during the first half.
When Hastings is good, he is very, very good – as are the Warriors – and his spirit of adventure could be key tonight. But he will also need to bring some control at times, because this isn’t like playing in the PRO14 when his team have the natural ability to dig themselves out of holes of their own making.
JASON HARRIES versus LEE JONES
Blues winger Harries is a familiar face for Scottish pro rugby fans from along the M8 corridor after spending last season as part of Richard Cockerill’s squad, although after starting each of Edinburgh’s first four games of the campaign he became a bit part player for the capital outfit, managing only six more appearances for the club during the remainder of his stint in the Scottish capital – playing as many games for Watsonians in the Premiership during that period. The former Wales Under-18s, Under-20s and Sevens player, who came through the ranks at the Scarlets, returned to Wales during the summer, and has played all of every competitive match for the Blues so far this season.
The 6ft 3inch Welshman will have his hands full trying to keep tabs on the rather less imposing – 5ft 11inch – Lee Jones, who has been razor-sharp form for the Warriors during their last three outings since returning from an Achilles injury. Jones was one of the players who asked Saracens the most questions last Sunday and he will be desperate to carry on his good form this weekend after being named in Gregor Townsend’s 40-man Scotland training squad on Wednesday.
GARETH ANSCOMBE versus TOMMY SEYMOUR
Dave Rennie has made only one selectorial change from the side which battled bravely – but in vain – against Saracens. Available again Seymour has been brought in ahead of Ruaridh Jackson at full-back, with the coach challenging the 30-year-old to use his pace to attack from deep.
“He is lighting quick – similar to Stuart Hogg – and he is really strong aerially,” explained Rennie. “We know Cardiff are going to kick a lot of ball, they kick second most in the PRO14. He [Seymour] has a really strong kicking game and is a good communicator. He has not played a lot at full-back but what it means is that he will get a lot more ball in his hands and will be able to ask some questions from a counterattack point of view.”
It is safe to say that John Mulvihill, the Blues head coach, will be looking for something similar from his number 15 this week, especially after 27-year-old New Zealand-born Wales internationalist Gareth Anscombe’s wonder try during his t
eam’s excellent victory in Lyon last weekend –
THE TEAMS –
Glasgow Warriors: T Seymour; L Jones, H Jones, S Johnson, D van der Merwe; A Hastings, A Price; O Kebble, F Brown, D Rae, R Harley, J Gray, R Wilson, C Gibbins, M Ferguson. Subs: G Turner, A Allan, P du Plessis, S Cummings, C Fusaro, G Horne, P Horne, N Matawalu.
Cardiff Blues: G Anscombe; A Summerhill, R Lee-Lo, W Halaholo, J Harries; J Evans, T Williams; R Gill, K Dacey, D Lewis, G Earle, J Turnbull, O Robinson, E Jenkins, N Williams. Subs: E Lewis, B Thyer, S Andrews, R Thornton, S Manoa, L Williams, C Smith, M Morgan.
- Kick-off is at 3.15pm – live on BT Sport 3