THOSE Glasgow Warriors players who have not been named in Scotland’s Six Nations training squad will now enjoy a two-week break from rugby and Scotstoun, but head coach Franco Smith promised that they they will be expected to stick to their fitness programmes so that they can hit the ground running when the squad reconvenes to begin preparation for their United Rugby Championship Round 10 clash against the Dragons (at Scotstoun) on 17th February.
With Friday night’s 29-5 win over Toulon booking Warriors their place in the last 16 of the Champions Cup (although they didn’t secure a home draw), and with a record of six wins from nine matches putting them third in the URC league table at the halfway stage, the South African is entitled to feel generally satisfied with how the campaign is going so far –especially as he has had to contend with an extensive injury list which has sidelined several key players over the last few months.
But Smith cautions that there is still an awful long way to go in this season … which is why he is keen to give his non-international players plenty of downtime when he can.
‘There’s still six months left,” said Smith, before pointing out that a recent injury suffered by back-rower Jack Mann helps highlight how his team are engaged in marathon rather than a sprint.
“Jack broke his leg yesterday playing for our A team [in a training match] against Scotland U20s. He’ll be operated on next week. He could recover and still come back for the final two months of the season. That shows how long there is still to go.”
“So, I think freshness towards the end of the campaign is going to be very important so the guys will be off for a couple of weeks now, two weeks to be exact, then they will come back and we will have a little bit more than 10 days to prepare for the Dragons. But being off time doesn’t mean the are not training, it just means they are not in Scotstoun and we do not do rugby for a couple of week.
But their physical conditioning and operation on what’s needed is clear. The young guys who are not involved in the Six Nations have now tasted the quality of the rugby, so they know what is needed and I’m sure the next few weeks is going to be used to physically develop the players as best we can.”
Meanwhile, Smith delivered a promising update on scrum-half Jamie Dobie, who has been out of action since injuring his ankle back in November. “If we were playing next week or the week after then he could have been involves, so he’s not far away now,” explained the South African coach. “He will definitely be available for selection against the Dragons.”
It is understood that prop Murphy Walker, is also targeting the Dragons game for his first outing of the season after recovering from a calf injury.
Richie Gray was a late call-off for last [Friday] night’s match with a knee issue but isn’t considered to be a concern for the Six Nations at this stage.
“It happened at Tuesday training so we wanted to see how it would recover,” said Smith. “On Thursday he said he was keen to contribute so I said to him that we would give him a ‘full go’ and decide on the night. But after five minutes warm-up he said he wasn’t comfortable. We don’t think it is anything serious but we don’t want to risk it because he has some big rugby coming up.”
Speaking immediately after Friday night’s match, Smith praised the team’s overall performance in tough weather conditions, and was particularly effusive about man-of-the-match Huw Jones (who scored two tries on his return to the centre after deputising on the wing in recent weeks), Kyle Steyn (on his comeback after 10 months out with an ankle injury) and Kyle Rowe (who also scored two tries).
“If you look at the weather conditions, to score five tries with the ball in hand is extraordinary,” Smith reasoned. “They [Toulon] didn’t come here just to roll over. They defended very well, especially in the first half. This is a very good win for us.
“There are a lot of learnings to take from it but you can never take a European win for granted. I thought the way we built into the game was fantastic. I’m excited to say I was never in doubt that we would qualify for the last 16.
“Huw was brilliant. It was never a case of not wanting to play him in centre. He was fantastic in helping us by playing on the wing. He put the club first which says a lot about the man and what the club means to him. That contribution is well appreciated.
“I’m happy that he and Sione Tuipulotu clicked straight away. They’ve been training like this all the time. It was just our injury crisis over Christmas that forced us to play him on the wing. Again his attitude was fantastic.”
“I thought both Kyles played really well,” he added. “I was happy to see Kyle Steyn back leading into the Six Nations. To come back and prove to yourself that your fitness levels are alright and that you are back into the swing of things is important.
“We couldn’t play him last week as we felt he needed another week of training but he has done well to play 80 minutes tonight.”