BOTH Callum Gibbins and Ryan Wilson are poised to return to the Glasgow Warriors back row on Saturday as their team seek a first win in four games against Edinburgh.
A dead rubber in terms of the 1872 Cup thanks to the capital side’s two wins in December, the match at Scotstoun is very much a live issue for Glasgow as they bid for a home semi-final, and depending on results earlier in the day could also be crucial for Edinburgh. Having lost those two games either side of Christmas, the Warriors know they need to do better in the set piece against their east-coast rivals, hence the eagerness to welcome back Wilson and Gibbins.
“We’re hopeful both players will be right to play,” assistant coach Jason O’Halloran said. “We just have to tick a few boxes to make sure they’re OK from a physical point of view. We should have a much clearer picture by end of play on Thursday training, but it is looking pretty positive.”
Gibbins has been out since being concussed in the Champions Cup defeat by Saracens at the start of the month, while Wilson has been on the sidelines longer, having sustained knee-ligament damage in Scotland’s match against Ireland in February. The length of the Scotland international’s absence – not to mention his especial enthusiasm for this fixture – makes it particularly important that he return this weekend as his team prepare for the play-offs.
“I would imagine Ryan will be very keen to get on the field,” O’Halloran continued. “From his and all the other players’ point of view if we get this right there is a three-week gap until the semi-final. If you want to be part of the picture selection-wise for the semi, you really need to get out there this weekend and play really well.”
Unlike Edinburgh, Glasgow have already qualified for the play-offs and are masters of their own fate. Thanks to their three-point lead over Munster at the top of Conference A, any kind of win will take them straight through to a home semi against the winners of the Ulster v Connacht quarter-final. Should they lose and Munster beat Ulster in Saturday’s other late match, they will then be at home in a quarter-final against whoever finishes third in Conference B. At present that is Benetton, but if the Treviso-based club slip up against Zebre, Edinburgh could overtake them to set up a fourth derby of the season.
As the Italian match kicks off earlier in the day, Benetton, a point clear of Edinburgh, will need a bonus-point win to be sure of finishing third. A four-point win could see them overtaken as long as Richard Cockerill’s side beat Glasgow with a bonus and end up with a better points differential – they are currently 10 points worse off. If Benetton do get the bonus, Edinburgh may need to beat Glasgow merely to finish fourth and so qualify for the Champions Cup play-off. That will depend on how Scarlets fare against Dragons earlier in the day.
Needless to say, however, O’Halloran has no time or sympathy to spare for his team’s opponents. He knows what to expect from Edinburgh, and he knows what his own players need to do better if they are to win. “It will be interesting to see the tactical approach by Edinburgh,” he added. “To have any chance you would think they have to be focused on four tries.
“Whether that means they slightly deviate from their game plan it will be interesting to see. We’re expecting pretty much the same formula we cop every time from them, which is a massive focus on the set piece, a really good kicking game, good defence, and trying to suffocate and frustrate us.
“We need to play better. We can’t afford turnover ball like we had in the past. In that first game we probably overplayed and ended up a bit frustrated. I don’t think there needs to be a huge tactical shift. We just need to do what we do a lot more accurately and be better round the A-B-Cs of the game such as the set piece, recycling the ball, and tempo and playing in the right parts of the game.
“They try to get penalties through their set piece, and kick for lineout and maul lineout and look for field position and box-kick brilliantly off Henry [Pyrgos], so we can’t underestimate how important the scrum is. It will be interesting to see the referee’s interpretation of that, to be honest.”
Scottish referee Mike Adamson is the man in the middle on Saturday, but, while implying that there is no consistency in the way the scrum is managed, O’Halloran acknowledged it will be down to his own team to make the referee’s mind up for him. “Week to week we get different interpretations at the scrum, so it will be interesting to see. Ultimately what we’ve got to do with that is make sure we’re the team going forward – one consistent thing about how referees rule scrums is that the team going forward generally gets most of the calls.”
Glasgow’s form going into this game is certainly better than it was in the corresponding fixture a year ago, and O’Halloran is confident that the squad as a whole have improved significantly this season. “I think we’re a lot more mature. In rugby you talk a lot about honesty: running [water] bottles, I’ve seen some guys really get stuck into them around some aspects of the game that I had not seen the previous season.
“That says to me we’re mature enough to stab each other in the belly and demand performances out of each other. That was key to our victory over Leinster. Some of the talk in that forward pack was pretty confrontational around the demands from each other, particularly defensively, and that bore out some good results and I was pleased to see that.
“The Leinster game was an important game: although it was not their top team, they had some pretty damn good players and brought on the British Lions front row at half-time. They brought on that front row and we decimated them in the next scrum. It was a big turning point.”
PRO14 MATCHDAY 21 FIXTURES
3pm: Dragons v Scarlets
4.30pm: Cheetahs v Southern Kings
5pm: Zebre v Benetton
5.15pm: Cardiff Blues v Ospreys, Ulster v Leinster
7.35pm: Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh, Munster v Connacht