DANNY WILSON says his Glasgow Warriors team have earned the right to believe that they can get the positive result they need against Leinster on Friday night.
Warriors have recovered from a disastrous start to this Rainbow Cup campaign against Benetton to win three games – against Edinburgh home and away, then Dragons away – on the bounce, which has lifted them to joint second in the ‘Northern’ conference, putting them in contention to qualify for the final against the top side in the ‘Southern’ conference on 19th June.
It is a long shot. They need a bonus-point win from this last pool match and a fairly unlikely sequence of results elsewhere to go their way in order to finish top of the table but given the trials and tribulations his side has faced this season through injury, extended international windows and Covid interruptions, Wilson is determined to see his team make the most of the opportunity and let fate take care of the rest.
They might be up against the four-times European and seven-times PRO14 (including this season) champions, who they have not beaten in the last five meetings between the two sides, but Wilson believes that Leinster’s recent form has cracked their air of invincibility.
“The first thing is we’re coming into it in a bit of form and playing some decent rugby,” he reasoned. “Having three good wins under our belt, confidence is hopefully where it needs to be.
“I was wondering after coming off two derbies where you know that emotionally you’re going to be very high, whether there was going to be a drop-off playing Dragons away last weekend, but I was really pleased because that was probably the most physical performance we’ve put out. So, that shows that emotionally we were in a good place, and I think the work ethic was strong.
“It will have to be the same against Leinster. It’s a different animal playing Leinster, one of the best sides in Europe, whichever side they put out. It’s a big challenge, an exciting challenge, here on a fast track on a Friday night. I think it’s one that the boys will want to play in.”
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Leinster were knocked out of the Champions Cup by La Rochelle at the start of May, lost heavily at home to Munster in round one of the Rainbow Cup in late April, and also suffered a home defeat to Ospreys in their final game of their PRO14 league campaign in mid-March, which doesn’t suddenly render them a poor team but has perhaps cracked their air of invincibility.
“With these teams, the myth goes with them, and as soon as you see a fixture against Leinster your senses perk up because you know it is a very strong side with a very good record,” continued Wilson. “But, at the same time, if you look at them the tail-end of this season, they’ve had a couple of results which maybe aren’t to the standard they would want.
“Sides have beaten them, so I think they are every much beatable – whilst still respecting that they are a very strong side. We’re playing them at home which, again, is a bit different, so we’ll see.
“Wins against Leinster are few and far between, and it would be excellent if we could get one.
“But I’m also fully aware of the challenge that they bring. What I am pleased about is that we have turned a corner in terms of results and performances – we’ve scored some nice tries and we’re defending better. Our discipline is slowly getting better, it was better on the weekend but still a few silly penalties.
“As a coach I’m focusing on the improvements we’re making, and to me they’re clear to see. At the end of a long season, boys could easily clock off, and they haven’t, so I’m pleased about that.”
Warriors will also draw encouragement from the way a youthful side he sent out against Leinster at the RDS back in February rallied from the first half sending off of Adam Hastings to give the hosts a real run for their money before eventually coming out on the wrong side of a harsh 40-21 score-line.
“With the score at the end of the game, you felt a bit deflated because we’d worked hard to get back into it,” reflected Wilson. “At one point it was 28-21 [having been 28-7 down at half-time], then we had a yellow-card on top of the red-card and you can’t play Leinster with 13 men. No chance.”
“But if you look at that day, Rufus McLean, Ollie Smith and Cole Forbes were our back three, it doesn’t get much younger than that going to the RDS and playing Leinster, so that was big experiences for those guys. As I said at the time, we are going to have some pain along the way with this process [of blooding youth], but we’re also going to get some big learnings, which we got for those players that day.”
“For us, we’re coming to the end of the season and involved in meaningful games,” he concluded. “As I said to the boys today, a lot of other sides are not in meaningful games, but we are, and in the future that’s where we want to be – thinking about how we jump up another level, rather than tapering off and thinking about jumping on a plane somewhere.
“We’ve earned the right to be in meaningful fixtures so let’s go out and perform and really test ourselves.”
- Meanwhile, flanker Fotu Lokotui – who joined the club on an undisclosed contract length in October – will leave Glasgow Warriors this summer to take up a two-year deal with French side Agen. The Tongan international has made 13 appearances, including five starts and scored three tries during his time at the club.