Franco Smith’s ‘dad joke’ can be the key to success for Warriors against Munster, says Jack Dempsey

Ferocity of Scarlets challenge on Saturday was a wake-up call for Glasgow Warriors

Franco Smith's 'dad joke' will keep Glasgow Warriors focussed, says No 8 Jack Dempsey Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Franco Smith has insisted he will not be distracted by speculation that he could in time succeed Gregor Townsend as Scotland's head coach. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk.

SCOTTISH rugby’s long history of mediocrity during the professional era has been underpinned by a ‘jam tomorrow’ mindset, whereby the pain defeat is too often trivialised as an opportunity to ‘learn’ or ‘grow’. Such spin serves as an easy excuse for under-achievement, whereas in reality success breeds success.

There have been a few notable exceptions – like Glasgow Warriors’ Pro12 triumph in 2015 and their progress to the play-off finals in 2014 and 2019 – but the general pattern has been of infrequent one-off successes in big matches when everything clicks, rather than a fully developed habit of winning even when things aren’t going to plan.

Midway through Warriors’ Challenge Cup semi-final against Scarlets in Llanelli on Saturday evening, it felt very much like we were witnessing another instalment of this demoralising saga, with the away team having blown a positive start by committing a series of accuracy and disciplinary blunders which left them trailing by 14 points to seven at the break.


Glasgow Warriors’ Challenge Cup Final opponents confirmed

TikTok Women’s 6N: superb Scotland sign off on a high with big win over Ireland

Super Series Sprint: Ayrshire Bulls beat Southern Knights to go top of table


The fact that Warriors regrouped to score four second half tries – and not concede any despite enduring 20 minutes of extreme pressure – is the biggest indication yet that something meaningful is happening at Scotstoun under Franco Smith … but it is still early days and that theory will fall apart if they don’t now back it up against Munster in the URC play-off quarter-finals next Saturday night.

Jack Dempsey reckons the key to Warriors avoiding a stumble at that next hurdle after digging deep to clear this one lies with a ‘dad joke’ which has become part of head coach Smith’s weekly routine.

The Australian-born No 8 – who qualifies to play for Scotland through his Glaswegian grandfather – led the charge for Warriors in Saturday’s win with 15 carries for 63 metres (more than any other player) and was typically honest afterwards in his assessment of how the team’s evolution from  ‘also rans’ to ‘serious contenders’ in both the URC and Europe is progressing.

“Franco is a bit of a dad-joke-operator so every week when we beat Zebre or we beat Ulster or whoever we beat, he comes in on Monday and we all stand up and give each other a round of applause, and then he says: Right, next job,” Dempsey explained.

“You laugh at it at the start, and then it becomes a bit cringy or whatever, but the message is there – that you don’t win anything until you’ve won something.  That’s something we’ve all bought into – definitely I’ve bought into it.

“We celebrate the wins now, have a beer in the changing room under the stand, then we move onto the next job on Monday. That’s the mentality.

 

“I’m not the type of guy to sugar coat anything, and I think there was a lot of guys who had not played at that stage before, and I think it got to them a bit,” Dempsey replied when asked about the team’s performance against Scarlets.

“We’ve been comfortable the last three or four weeks when we’ve had all home games, so the curve ball this week was the hostile environment when you can’t hear your own line-out calls, for example, and it makes it challenging in other ways. Then you get a team like the Scarlets, who threw everything at us in the first 20 or 30 minutes – and they had a number of guys injured because they were just flying at us – which is what you get in these games whether you are at home or not. So we saw that it can slip through your fingers when we went 14-7 down and there’s a price to pay if you are not switched on.

“The silver-lining is that we’ve got it out the system, so it doesn’t hit us next week when we play Munster, or the week after, or the week after that in the final.

“That’s the whole point of getting experience on big stages – you never know what’s going to be thrown at you, and I think the second half against Scarlets showed what we’re made of.

“The message at half-time was: Don’t panic. It was obvious that a lot of guys were going out of the system or not trusting the system – the process – and that’s what sport comes down to. You get to this point by doing certain things and we weren’t doing them, so that’s what the message was: Everyone calm down and relax. And we did that and went back to what we’re good at.

“We could easily have folded, gone into our shell, called it a learning experience and had a look to next year – but we dug deep and remembered what makes us a great team, and we pulled it out in the end.

“Momentum is definitely more of a mental thing, you take confidence in the fact that you haven’t lost in a while, but I think today was a bit of a shock to the system and a wake-up call for the boys to see that in big moments this is what it takes.”

 

As serious as Dempsey is about keeping focussed, he also wants his team-mates to enjoy the challenge of competing for silverware on two fronts.

“I think this year, since day one when Franco came in, there has been something kind of growing,” he said. “There have been ups and downs, but this is something I think we deserve because of the way everyone has worked for each other.

“To get that result in a pretty hostile environment – I’ve played here before and it wasn’t anything like that – just adds another layer to the story. So, we’ll put that aside now and move on in the league.

“We beat Munster recently at their joint and the year before we played them at home, so we are two on the trot against them, but they are a different beast now.

“I think the last game against us at Thomond Park was a wake-up call for them and they bounced back really hard. They had a good fightback draw against the Sharks recently and some big performances, so they are on a roll as well.

“Now they are coming off a rest week because they didn’t have this game in Europe and we’ve got five days to prepare, so it is going to be a tough one.

“As somebody coming in from the outside, I didn’t know the history between the two clubs [Munster and Glasgow], but I know now it is very rich and the games are very physical. [Ryan Wilson] doesn’t stop talking about it, to be honest!

“I’m just looking forward to it. That’s why you play – to be involved in these sorts of games against these teams. You want to be there and be a part of it.”


Scarlets v Glasgow: Warriors overcome jitters to book place in Challenge Cup Final

About David Barnes 4012 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

3 Comments

  1. He split opinion, but Wilson provided a backbone to the #Whatever it Takes philosophy – Dempsey seems to be filling that gap and some more, a mental edge that drives you forward on the pitch that others follow. Fast becoming irreplaceable along with Zander, Sione, and indeed Franco himself! Looking forward to Saturday, I wonder if he’ll rest Dempsey with Fagerson jnr starting at 8…?

  2. It’s really good to see players coming on not just Dempsey but Vailanu, the Fagerson brothers, Jordan the centres, the renewal of Richie Gray, something is definitely stirring at Scotstoun!!
    Next season we need to take the next step up, to compete with the likes of La Rochelle and Leinster!

Comments are closed.