COACHES can normally expect a low-key start to a new season: two or three warm-up games, for example, followed by some run-of-the-mill league matches. But Danny Wilson’s introduction to life in charge of Glasgow will be an altogether more brusque affair: not only a match against old rivals Edinburgh, but a do-or-die effort in which only a five-point victory will keep his team’s PRO14 play-off hopes alive.
Add in the fact that his squad will go into the game cold, just weeks after resuming full-contact training, and you could understand if the new man were to feel a touch overawed by the situation that awaits him. And of course, once the remnant of this season is over, the new campaign will be punctuated by a longer-than-normal autumn Test window, meaning that Glasgow are likely to be without the bulk of their first-choice team for six weeks or more.
But instead of being spooked by the size of his task, Wilson seems able to remain pragmatic about it. Indeed, while acknowledging that he faces some very unusual challenges in his new job, he finds it fairly easy to find a positive aspect to the situation.
“Obviously we’re waiting for announcements and final confirmation of fixtures around international rugby, but I think we could be looking at a very unique season,” Wilson said earlier this week. “The real positive is that that will get money back into the game. The international game is where we’ll get the money back that we’re all desperate for. That’s a really important thing.
“The knock-on effect for Glasgow and for Edinburgh is that it will be pretty tough if the international period clashes with PRO14 fixtures because of the amount of players we lose. When we only have two clubs we’re obviously going to lose a huge chunk of players to Scotland, and then probably other players to other nations as well.
“If those fixtures are confirmed we’re going to have quite a challenge on our hands. But the positive of that is that we’ll get to look at and blood some of the younger players. We’ll have to. It will be a good test of where our squad is at. We still have a few holes and a few issues to approach and fill, but we’re working on those in the background.”
Wilson’s first game in charge of his new team takes place just three weeks today, when Glasgow visit Murrayfield. Six days later they face Edinburgh at the same ground, albeit they are officially at home. Given the squad are only now beginning full-contact work in training, they will go into that double-header under-prepared physically compared to normal season openers, although the coach is confident his players will be ready in other respects.
“Every coach will tell you they want more time. But in terms of the plan that was put in place, I think it is safe and suitable for the fixtures we are going to be playing against Edinburgh. We are all going to be in the same boat, their players and our players.
“We have done a fair amount of building contact work within our groups of 20. There has been a fair amount of pad work and controlled build to contact. But what we need to do is bridge the gap between not playing for six months to playing. That means building the contact slowly but surely in a safe way, which I feel we’ve been doing. That will be ramped up to the next stages over the next few weeks.
“By the time we get to that match I think we will be in a position where we are ready to play a game safely. But you would want as much time as possible before you get to that fixture.”
The two teams may be in the same boat when it comes to preparation time, but they are in very different positions when it comes to the race for the PRO14 play-offs. Conference B leaders Edinburgh need just one point to book their place in the last four, while Glasgow, third in Conference A, need all ten from the double-header as well as requiring second-placed Ulster to lose both their games.
If his team’s play-off hopes are over by the time of the second game on, Wilson explains, he may well shake up his squad and give some fringe players a run. But given its do-or-die nature for the Warriors, he expects the opening game to be, if anything, more fiercely contested than usual.
“A derby is a derby, so the intensity will be there. Both teams still have something to play for. Mathematically, we have something to play for, but Edinburgh probably more so. There is a lot riding on that game. I think it will make for a really exciting derby based on that. But we are also, all of us, aware that these boys haven’t had a game of rugby for almost six months. That’s a long time to be out of rugby and then come back into playing a derby.
“For both teams it will be a great challenge. What an exciting way to come back to rugby at Murrayfield. It’s a challenge for all of us in all different ways, but one we’re all looking forward to.”
The ideal for Wilson is that Glasgow win both their matches with bonus points and Ulster lose their two games pointlessly – something that would propel the Warriors into the semi-finals. If that scenario bites the dust after the first round of games, the coach is prepared to think about testing the depth of his squad in game two. His first consideration, however, is to throw everything into the first Edinburgh match and see where that takes him.
“We’ve got to play that first game to get five points and see what happens with the Ulster game. After that game we can assess how we go into the second game.
“Being honest with you, do we then make adjustments and changes based on the fact we are not in the competition any more? It gives me and the coaching team a chance to look at different combinations. Or do we say, we have an opportunity here, if we get another five points and Ulster don’t get a point from their last game, well then we have to be going for it. We have to put out a side that resembles going for it and play rugby that resembles going for it.
“The exciting bit is that we have to approach game one as if we still have an opportunity, which we have. It is a slim one, I totally understand that, but one we have to go at.
“After that, what it would probably mean for us is that we would have a small window, three or four weeks, where we could get some more pre-season training done and have more opportunities for us as coaches to put our own stamp on it.
“Right now, you’re not going to change everything and cram everything into a very short window before you play two derbies. You make the adjustments you can and the changes you can and want to, and then we’ll make the other adjustments leading into the start of next season. We would be a bit foolish trying to cram everything into this four-week window.”