AFTER getting back to winning ways at the weekend, Glasgow Warriors have entered 2018 with a renewed – and realistic – sense of optimism. Their hopes of reaching the Champions Cup quarter-finals again have long gone, but in the PRO14 they are now all but guaranteed a place in the play-offs, with a home semi-final the most probable reward for a campaign which has so far seen them win 10 games out of 11.
If the defeat by Edinburgh two days before Christmas showed some troubling signs of vulnerability, victory over the same opponents last Saturday provided reassuring evidence to the contrary. And, according to Zander Fagerson, the failings that have proven costly in some big games this season are being positively addressed.
“The scrum wasn’t where it should have been at the start of the season, but we have built on it and we’re pretty chuffed,” the tighthead prop said after the 17-0 win over Edinburgh, before going on to praise his front-row colleagues. “Jamie Bhatti has been playing great recently. So has Fraser Brown. We’ve been building.
“I feel my form has been all right. I’ve not been 100 per cent for a few of the games, but I was pretty happy today. My niggles were away, so I was pretty chuffed. I got my hands on the ball so I felt it went OK.
“There are a few exciting weeks coming up leading into a busy part of the season. We’re getting to the business end. This was a good start, but we have to build on that.
“Last week we weren’t happy with the performance. Today we weren’t perfect either, but a win’s a win. Keeping them to nil was pretty good as well. The try at the end sealed it, so we’re pretty chuffed. We go into the New Year looking to build on it.”
Those ‘exciting weeks’ begin on Saturday with a league game against Zebre, then it is on to the remaining pool games in the Champions Cup – away to Leinster and home to Exeter – before attention switches to the Six Nations. It will be a much-changed Warriors team who take the field during the Championship, with Fagerson and a dozen or more team-mates certain to feature in the Scotland squad, but one of the most positive aspects of the season so far has been the way in which they have maintained their level of performance even with a much-changed team.
That was proven during the Autumn Tests when they kept up their winning record – a contrast to the previous year or two, when enforced multiple changes to the team during international windows often led to a drastic falling-off in standards. The only time such a lapse has really occurred this season was at Murrayfield, when Edinburgh won 18-17 despite being down to 14 men for 75 minutes. Head coach Dave Rennie did not quite cancel Christmas as a result of that disappointment, allowing the squad their scheduled time off, but when they reported back for duty the players were left in no doubt that their display had been unacceptable.
“We had a pretty rough debrief on Thursday after four days off for Christmas,” Fagerson explained. “We had a good hard look at ourselves and asked a few hard questions about where we want to be and who we want to be and how we want to play.
“We got told we were pretty shit in all areas. It wasn’t fun but it needed to be done and in the long run it will benefit us. It showed us we can’t just rock up and start throwing the ball away. But we’re building and we can only get better. We’re happy heading into the New Year.”