THE inexperienced and generally unheralded Glasgow Warriors team sent out to play Bath last Saturday fully repaid the faith head coach Franco Smith had shown in them by producing a surprise win at The Rec, but not all of the players involved will be rewarded with re-selection ahead of this Friday night’s European Challenge Cup pool stage round two tie against Perpignan.
“If you include the academy players, we’ve got a squad of 50 plus to choose from at the moment, so it’s about managing how many games you give guys in a row so they can get into a flow and a feel of the game, while keeping everyone fresh,” explained assistant coach Pete Murchie.
“We’ll make changes again this week, but the expectancy levels have raised for the guys that are coming in because of what the boys who played last weekend did, and those guys who did play well at the weekend but don’t play again this week will still have credit in the bank from what they’ve shown. You’re more willing to give someone another shot when they’ve done well in a pressure situation.”
Murchie singled out debutants Jack Mann and Angus Fraser for particular praise. The former, who suffered a concussion during the second half against Bath so won’t be in the selection mix for Perpignan, is a 23-year-old back-row and former Scotland Under-20s cap, who wasn’t given a pro deal when he left the academy in 2021 but has impressed whilst playing for Heriot’s in recent Super6 campaigns. The latter, who is a hooker and also aged 23, graduated from the academy to a senior deal with Warriors at the start of this season.
“That team [which played against Bath] was probably picked six weeks ago,” said Murchie. “It’s been a long time in the planning, based on what we see from guys in training like Jack Mann and Angus Fraser.
“Jack has been training full-time for the last few months and he’s done really well. He played in the ‘A’ game [versus Edinburgh last month] and he was excellent against Bath. His carrying, his defensive work, his clean-out work – very, very dynamic. He got a start and from the outside that might have looked unusual but inside the building nobody is batting an eyelid because he’s been training the house down for three months.
“He’s been given an opportunity,” Murchie replied when pushed on Mann’s status within the club. “I don’t know the ins and outs of his contract in terms of expenses and stuff but he’s not contracted to the club. HGis efforts in Super6 merited us having a look and he was really keen to come in with us, and after the first week Franco was keen to keep him.
“He’s an absolute specimen. Athletically, he’s how you’d describe your model back-row. He’s very powerful and he’s a level-headed hard worker who takes everything in his stride.
“Angus tore up trees in the ‘A; game against Edinburgh so neither of those guys were given opportunities for the sake of it. It was because they earned it. We want to grow the depth and now it just adds to the feeling that there are 50-60 players who can all add value when given their opportunity.
“It’s great to see those boys make an impact and guys like Cam Neild [a recent short-term signing from Worcester who also made his debut against Bath] coming in too. That’s what you need. Guys pushing each other, three or four in each position. That’s what creates healthy competition and training standards.
“All successful teams need fresh impetus,” he added. “Look at Leinster, they always have fresh impetus every year, two or three who come through. It’s really important. As a player you want to know that training matters, that Super6 matters, otherwise what are you doing it for?”
Murchie also praised 31-year-old scrum-half Sean Kennedy – a player at the other end of the experience spectrum – who has had limited game-time in recent seasons but came off the bench against Bath to secure a crucial late turnover as Warriors held out for the win.
“Sean is Mr Consistent,” said the former Glasgow and Scotland full-back. “He’s a great trainer, a great person around the club and very level-headed.
“Whenever he plays, he plays well. I can’t remember him having a bad game. It was good to have him on the pitch at the end, steering us around and putting us in the right places. He’s got a good kicking game and he’s as brave as they come. It was at 75 minutes when he made that turnover, and we were 10 metres from our own line. That was a big moment in the game.”
Warriors have had an infuriating habit in recent seasons of failing to back-up positive performances and results, and Murchie stressed that both the coaching staff and playing squad recognise the need to be more consistent week-on-week.
This weekend they are up against a Perpignan who opened their Challenge Cup campaign with a home loss against Bristol Bears and who be sorely tempted to prioritise their ongoing battle to escape the Top 14’s relegation zone when it comes to team selection for their trip to Scotland.
“We’ve not been high-fiving each other as if we’ve won the World Cup,” said Murchie. “We were really pleased with the performance levels, why we played well and what it means for us as a group, but you have to be hard on each other at the same time.
“As soon as you think ‘two away wins in a row, we’ve got this cracked’ then you’re done. You have to push on. Every good team will always look to inch forward and there’s so much we can move forward from the weekend, whether it’s looking at how we stop the tries we conceded or the two or three gilt-edged chances that we missed. It’s always push, push, push, push, push. If you’re not pushing forward, you’re going backwards.
“We don’t know what team Perpignan will bring,” he continued. “They’re towards the lower end of the Top 14 and we’ve watched a fair amount of their footage. The thing about the Top 14 is they change the team all the time. Home and away, it’s constantly changing.
“I watched their game against Racing 92 [at the start of November] and they were beating them at half-time, and it was only when Finn [Russell] came on that the game swung away from Perpignan. So, they’ve got threats and we know we can’t take them lightly.”
Scottish Rugby and Glasgow Warriors ground staff are working flat-out at the moment to ensure that the artificial surface at Scotstoun is playable despite the arctic conditions across Scotland all this week.