THIS time last year, Glasgow Warriors stumbled into the Guinness PRO14 play-offs after three weeks out of action, and having lost three out of the four matches they had played directly before that break. They ended up suffering a painful semi-final defeat at home to the Scarlets, bringing to an abrupt end a season in which they had been runaway leaders in their conference before losing their mojo in dramatic style when it really mattered.
Assistant coach Jonathan Humphreys is adamant that a similar implosion is not on the cards this time round. The Scotstoun outfit once again go into Friday night’s play-off game (this time against Ulster) having had three weeks off, but on this occasion they believe they are bolstered by the momentum generated by the rich vein of form which saw them claim impressive victories over Ulster at home, Leinster away and Edinburgh at home during their three final games of the regular season.
Warriors might have lost the game before that fairly heavily to Saracens in the quarter-final of the Champions Cup, but that result must be viewed in the context of the English superpower’s heroics against Leinster last weekend to claim the European crown. Dave Rennie’s men were well beaten at the end of March whilst playing away from home to the best team in Europe, which was disappointing but hardly catastrophic.
“It is a challenge [having a three-week break between matches] because we had good momentum and a good feeling amongst the group which we wanted to maintain, but the boys have been unbelievable in training,” said Humphreys. “We have had some fun and some tough sessions. In all aspects we have tried to be competitive. We just try to make sure the competitive edge and instinct is around us all the time. It is all about getting us to Friday and making sure that we are better than we were in the last game we played against Edinburgh. That is what we are after.
“We knew and hoped we would be in the play-offs. We needed energy, confidence and momentum. We have got that from the Saracens game onwards. The squad has been unbelievable to go Ulster, Leinster, Edinburgh – the way we have performed has been good for us.”
While Ulster were one of the teams vanquished by Warriors during that excellent run-in to the end of the season, Humphreys knows that there is no scope for resting on laurels. It is now knock-out rugby. It is do-or-die time. And he expects the men from Northern Ireland to present a far sterner test this Friday than they did last month.
“This is going to be a different kettle of fish … a different challenge … a better team,” explained the Welshman, who will leave the club this summer to join his homeland’s new international team coaching set-up under Wayne Pivac.
“We have to play better. We don’t put a ceiling on that. Saracens … the best team in Europe … we didn’t perform that day. That gave us the kick that we needed. Every time we go out on the training field, we need to be better when we walk off compared to when we walked on, and we have to be better than we were against Edinburgh in our last game.
“This is the play-offs. This is where everybody wants to be at this time of year, so we are expecting a real fired-up team, a real physical team. But we believe if we play well, we have a great chance of winning.”