Glasgow v Ulster: Ryan Wilson takes vital lessons from Euro loss ahead of semi-final

Warriors co-captain pinpoints Saracens defeat as key game in his team's recent improvements in defence

Ryan Wilson
Ryan Wilson is confident that Glasgow are in good shape going into their PRO14 semi-final. Image:©INPHO/Craig Watson.

RYAN Wilson does not come across as the type to send polite thank-you notes to Glasgow’s opponents, especially opponents who have beaten his own team pretty comprehensively. But if the Warriors go on to win the PRO14 at the end of the month, the club co-captain might just be minded to send a quick text or two to members of the Saracens squad.

Wilson is well aware that the ideal for a team is not to need a kick up the backside from anyone, and to perform at a consistently high level across all competitions. Nonetheless, he is sure that the shoeing his side got from the eventual Champions Cup winners in the quarter-final has given them the impetus they need as they look ahead to Friday’s PRO14 semi-final against Ulster and then hopefully a final against Leinster or Munster eight days later.

Since that 56-27 defeat at the end of March, Glasgow’s record is played three, won three. And not only did the results go their way, they played with an extra level of tenacity in defence that could just prove to be the difference in a tight fight next weekend or the one after. Of course, they had not exactly been struggling in Conference A before then, but, as Wilson accepted, the reverse, unwanted though it was, came at an opportune time.

“It looks like it because of the results after it, but we were in a good place before it as well,” he said last week at Scotstoun when asked if the European exit could be seen as a turning point – something which head coach Dave Rennie has already suggested. “Listen, it probably gave us a kick up the arse, probably one we needed. We look back at that game and there were parts that were just not good enough. We look back and say, ‘Well, why was that?  In a quarter-final -we leave it till then?’

“That’s how we’re looking at it now, but we have turned a corner since then. It was just a shame that we had to find that out in a quarter-final, because we could have made it to a semi if we had played like we did the last three or four weeks.”

Any lingering frustrations about that failure to go an extra round in Europe will now have to wait until next season to be dealt with, as the Warriors focus fully in the coming days on Friday’s semi-final. “We’re in a good place,” Wilson continued.

“Was it last year’s semi-final when we had a massive gap and we didn’t play much rugby? And the boss has touched on this, but we’ve had a good run in towards this semi. The last three games have been outstanding. Defence has been a big part of that, something we’re really pushing on and are proud of, so I think we are in a better place.”

Waiting for Godot

The gap between the last regular-season game and that semi-final loss to Scarlets was in fact just three weeks – the same length between the 1872 Cup win over Edinburgh and the coming match against Ulster. If last year’s wait felt longer to Wilson it was surely because his team had lost their form in the preceding games after having wrapped up a play-off place with months to spare.

They have had to fight longer this time, only qualifying for a home semi in the last round of games, and that should help with the difficult wait. In any case, as Wilson went on to point out, Ulster themselves will have had a fortnight between their matches, having beaten Connacht in a hard-fought quarter-final.

“They will have had two weeks, and a week is not a massive difference. We’ll be a little bit fresher. It’s hard to train without a game at the end of the week and I think the boys have been fantastic: the energy in training has been amazing. There are guys who have been training and they know that they’re not going to get a shot. It’s a 50-man squad effort and everyone has been pulling out the stops.”

More than a one track pony

Glasgow are arguably more committed than any other team in the league to adventurous, all-out attack, but their recent games have by necessity highlighted their counter-attacking abilities too – witness the move against Edinburgh begun by George Horne that ended with Tommy Seymour scoring from a Stuart Hogg pass.

Ideally, they would not want to be pinned back so deeply in the first place, but Wilson thinks that their enhanced counter-attacking prowess could come in pretty useful in the game or games to come.

“We didn’t have much ball in that game – 38 per cent possession, which is crazy. It just shows the work we’re doing off the ball in defence. It was questioned at the beginning of the year and now we have definitely pulled through on it.

“We’re doing well without the ball, which is something you have to do – be a hard team to beat. Then when we do have it we have a good crack with the ball and you can see what we can do – we score some pretty amazing tries.”

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About Stuart Bathgate 1151 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.