IT was only two weeks ago that Glasgow Warriors’ woeful away form was the cause of serious consternation. One swallow does not make a summer, and two wins on the road over Zebre in the United Rugby Championship and Bath in the European Challenge Cup does not constitute a rugby revolution, but those recent performances and results have undoubtedly raised expectation levels to the point where the weather-enforced switch of venue for tomorrow night’s encounter Perpignan from Scotstoun to Murrayfield is being viewed internally as nothing more than a minor inconvenience.
Indeed, head coach Franco Smith spent a good chunk of this [Thursday] afternoon’s team announcement press conference discussing how the change of circumstances should be viewed as an opportunity rather than a set-back for his team.
“There has been a lot of work put in by the support staff to try to make it happen here at Scotstoun, but unfortunately we ran out of time,” said Smith. “I am also feeling sorry for our supporters who wanted to come and see the game here. We know they are the 24th guy in the squad and that really excites us, as our home record show.
“So, in that regard, it is a disappointment, but at the same time we can use this as an opportunity. I don’t mind going to Murrayfield and it gives us a bit of a trial run for what is going to happen in a couple of weeks’ time when we play against Edinburgh in the 1872 Cup.
“It gives an opportunity for some of the guys who haven’t played there – maybe some of the foreigners – just to experience the atmosphere and the size of the stands which are much larger than we are used to.
“But the most important thing for us is to know that the game will be played, and to get our mind and mentality best prepared for what needs to be done.”
Pressed on whether he viewed the switch away from the west of Scotland as a gamble at any level, Smith pointed out that the team have hit a groove lately with back-to-back away wins over Zebre in the URC and then Bath in the Challenge Cup.
“In any other game, maybe [it is a gamble] but we know the stadium and it’s important for us to keep the momentum going forward and get the game played,” he said. ‘It helps to know what is happening, rather than sitting on Friday night waiting for the referee to make a decision about the pitch [as would be the case] if it was still being played at Scotstoun.”
Both teams have mixed ups their line-ups for this match, with Warriors making 11 changes – 10 personnel and one positional – from the side which started last weekend’s win over Bath, while only one Perpignan player is retained after last weekend’s home loss to Bristol Bears in round one of this European Challenge Cup campaign.
“I think a lot of the guys played really, really well [against Bath] and like I said last week, we picked that team with the specific ingredients for that game, as we picked this group with the specific ingredients for this week,” said Smith, in defence of his selection call.
“The squad is aligned with where we are aiming and what we are trying to do. Obviously, there is a lot of competition created through the result from last week, so that is exciting, and the players have shown that they’ve learnt and grown and developed through the physical hard work they have put in to be competitive,” said Smith.
“Some guys will be disappointed with not being involved this week, which is good, but it also encourages the players we do roll out tomorrow to represent the club in the same way as the guys last week did.”
“Obviously, we have prepared based on their squad and we have anticipated a lot of that as well as a coaching group,” he added, turning his attention to the opposition. “Where we are as a team tight now, we are concentrating on our side of things.
“Yes, they do bring individually brilliant players, individually capable players, and as a collective they pose certain threats across the park. They have the ability to intercept and get into your face a little bit, and they have individual playmakers who can offload before contact or just after contact.
“So, we are aware of all the threats they can bring, and it doesn’t matter who plays because that is the style of French rugby. But we are not going to let ourselves be phased by which team they are bringing out – we are just concentrating on what we can do around our processes, which need to get better if we want to compete going forward.”
Meanwhile, Smith provided some – but not a lot – more detail on Zander Fagerson’s prospects of recovering from a hamstring injury in time to play in the Six Nations, after a medical bulletin earlier this week revealed that the tight-head prop will be out for the “foreseeable future”.
“I can never rule recovery and the work of rehabilitation out, so I can’t at this stage confirm that,” he said “Obviously we are going to do everything we can do to make him available as quickly as possible again, so therefore it would be unwise of me to comment now or put a date on it.
“I think it is definitely going to be longer than six weeks – or around six weeks – but it can be longer depending on how he reacts to the treatment,”