CALLUM Gibbins believes that Friday night’s heavy defeat by Northampton could be a salutary reminder to Glasgow Warriors of just how good they will need to be this season to compete with the best. The visitors lost 41-15 at Franklin’s Gardens as their defensive shortcomings and lack of firepower up front were exposed by the Saints. But Gibbins, joint captain for the season along with Ryan Wilson, believes his team can address those flaws in time for the PRO14 campaign, which starts on Saturday with a visit to old rivals Connacht.
“It would have been nice to win,” the openside flanker said. “But it’s not the worst thing to happen in a pre-season game – it shows us the standard we need to be at if we want to be competitive.
“In parts of that game we played really well, I thought – there were just moments of ill-discipline or bad reads on defence or something like that. You’ve got to be disciplined. When you go down to 13 men it’s quite hard to play rugby.
“Northampton played really well and kept their eyes on the opportunities. If the space is there, most teams are going to take it, and they’ve got some great athletes in their team. They played really well; they stressed us. We were probably too tight to the ruck on defence and they cut us apart in the end.
“It’s disappointing that we lost, but we know now where we need to get better. We had a really good game last week and then you saw tonight it wasn’t that good. We’ve got areas we need to work on – scrum and lineout, and probably looking after the ball a little bit better.”
Glasgow had two men yellow-carded in the first half, and while Gibbins offered no defence of George Horne after the scrum-half was sin-binned for talking back to the referee, he did suggest that Ruaridh Jackson was unfortunate to follow his team-mate after he was deemed to have deliberately knocked on in a bid to stop a Northampton try. “Jacko was pretty unlucky, I thought. I think he tapped the ball back rather than it going forward, so he was unlucky to get a yellow card.”
It was doubly unfortunate for the Warriors that a penalty try was awarded against them for the same incident, but the outcome owed little else to luck or chance. Lest we get too gloomy, however, it should be remembered that several key Glasgow players have still to come into the side, with Jonny Gray, Zander Fagerson, Peter Horne and Stuart Hogg all expected to be involved.
And, while Dave Rennie accepted his team had performed poorly in some respects, in general the head coach believes they are better prepared for this campaign than they were for his first, when they began very brightly only to fail to hit top form when it counted. “The key is to be the best team in the comp at the business end of the season, and we weren’t,” the head coach said at last week’s PRO14 season launch. “We’ve looked at everything we did around preparation. There were quite a number of weeks off, for one thing, and ultimately we lacked intensity when it counted.
“We’ve looked at all our preparation from a coaching perspective – it’s easy to blame the players, but ultimately when you don’t front, we’ve got to look at what we did and how we prepared them. There’s been a bit of learning from that.
“Earlier in the year we were really clinical, made a lot of line breaks and converted them. That dried up late in the season too. We were still getting more line breaks than the opponents we were playing, but we didn’t defend with the same sort of intensity and we weren’t as urgent in regard to our ball support.
“We need to make some shifts around that and in the ability to build pressure. The big teams in Europe and in our competition are good at looking after the ball multi-phase and asking a lot of questions of you. We’ve put a lot of time into our skills set and into our contact work in defence in the off season. Hopefully we see the benefit of that.
“We understand that there are going to be times in the year when we’re going to be a little bit flatter, but we’ve got to make sure we come out the other side in really good nick. We thought we had our planning right for that, but clearly we didn’t.”
Rennie did not join up with the Warriors until shortly before last season began owing to his commitments with the Chiefs in New Zealand, and his presence from the start of training this time round has made a difference, according to Wilson.
“It’s been tough, but I’ve loved it,” the forward said. “Rens wasn’t here for a massive amount of last pre-season, but this time he’s come in from day one and it’s been skills, skills, skills. There’s been no straight-line running – the boring, tedious stuff which I was dreading. It’s all been focussed on skills.
“It’s been tough, but there’s been a lot of rugby sense put into it. We haven’t been running for the sake of running. There’s always a ball involved.”
Meanwhile, Sam Johnson returned to Glasgow on Saturday after being taken to Northampton General Hospital on Friday night. The centre was concussed in a tackle and needed to be stretchered off. He will now be subject to the head-injury assessment protocol before being allowed to return to action.