GLASGOW WARRIORS will have their skill-levels and decision-making tested under a unique level of pressure at Scotstoun on Sunday according to Nigel Carolan, but the assistant coach says he is confident that the players are up to the task of executing their game-plan in the face of the Stormers’ ferocious blitz defence in order to claim their biggest scalp of the season to date.
“The Stormers are so different to every other team you play against, not only are they the reigning URC champions but they defend in a way which is different,” the Irish attack expert explained. “They bring an unbelievable amount of line-speed, it’s almost reckless, and you really need to earn the right to find the space. You do that by taking them through a number of phases and then opportunities will open up.”
“It is a great challenge which is really focussing the minds of not only the coaches but also the players.”
“We’ve challenged the guts in the ‘other team’ to create that picture and simulate as much as possible how hard that line-speed comes during our training runs this week,” Carolan continued. “The defence comes so hard at you that it puts you in a position where you have less time on the ball and have to make quicker decisions. The execution of skills has to be on the money, but when you see the space and you get the ball there, there can be a lot of opportunity as well.
“These opportunities are not necessarily there on the first or second or third phase, but as you take them through the phases the space starts to open up – through them, around them, in behind them.
“We saw when the Stormers played [and lost] at Cardiff a few weeks back that it is very difficult to maintain that level of line-speed for every phase, and eventually they get a bit clustered, the backfield gets compromised, and space opens up. We just have to be patient, take them through the phases, and then identify opportunities as they arise.”
Carolan has good reason to be looking forward to this match optimistically given that Warriors are currently on a five-match winning streak, which includes back-to-back wins over Edinburgh in the 1872 Cup over the last fortnight. Not only have results been good, shrewd squad rotation by head coach Franco Smith has created keen competition for places in almost every position which bodes well for standards being pushed even higher in both training and matches during the weeks ahead.
Better still, a number of key men who have been side-lined through injury in recent weeks are making good progress towards their return-dates, creating some really positive selection headaches, especially in midfield.
“You have Sione Tuipulotu, you have Stafford McDowall in the form of his life, you have Huw Jones, who had tremendous games against Bath and Perpignan and is raring for his next opportunity, and you have Sam Johnson, who has been injured since Sharks [in mid-October] also knocking on the door and training well,” said Carolan.
“Sam was available last week. It was quite a severe injury he had with his broken jaw, more serious than Johnny Sexton’s, so we needed to manage his return to contact over the last few weeks. He is champing at the bit for selection, and it will come in the next couple of weeks.
“So, you have four guys all looking for selection in the two centre slots and we can play any combination of the four. They don’t have bad games, so it is difficult to manage their expectations of game-time – but it’s not a bad headache.”
There was also some positive updates around some stalwarts of the pack, although the national team rather than Glasgow seem likely to be the initial beneficiaries of these returns from injury. “Rory Darge is back running so not too far away,” Carolan added. “We’re very hopeful that he’ll be back within a month. Hopefully he will return early Six Nations.
“Scott Cummings is progressing his rehab as well. Zander Fagerson is doing very well too. It might be too late for us for this block of games, but hopefully Scotland will benefit from their return.”