Talking point: Is this the ultimate Glasgow Warriors 2015 & 2024 ‘Dream Team’?

Regular TOL reporter and Glasgow Warriors fan Iain Hay has selected his best of the best from the 2015 PR012 winning side and last weekend's URC heroes

Does Jack Dempsey or Josh Strauss make the Glasgow Warriors 2015 & 2024 Dream Team? Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Does Jack Dempsey or Josh Strauss make the Glasgow Warriors 2015 & 2024 Dream Team? Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

EVEN the most fervent and optimistic of fans could not have imagined the outcome of Saturday’s URC Final against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld, as the Warriors overcame a shaky – to put it mildly – start to be crowned ‘domestic’-ish league champions for a second time.

It was only a little over nine years ago that the Warriors cruised to victory over Munster for their first title, and since then there’s been competitive times, horror times, and now the Franco Smith inspired return to glory, so I started wondering, seeing as it’s the same era – the ‘Duncan Weira’ perhaps, seeing as he is the only player with two championship medals? – who would make the final cut if you were able to select a ‘Dream Team’ from the 2014-15 and the 2023-24 Warriors?

I’m going to base these comparisons on how they played over the course of their championship season, with emphasis on knock-out stages, and in case of a tie, maybe just ‘vibes’!


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#1 LOOSE-HEAD: Gordon Reid v Jamie Bhatti

Some of these are going to be incredibly close and this first one is.

Reid, for all his jocularity on social media, was a ferocious competitor on the pitch. He was one of the few to walk away with pass-marks from the Twickenham humbling of 2017.

I like Jamie Bhatti. I found his move from Glasgow to Edinburgh bizarre because he was still going to be sitting on the bench – behind Pierre Schoeman rather than Oli Kebble – and his return to Glasgow, after stints in England, wasn’t met with much fanfare.

Bhatti’s scrummaging has improved, he’s always been good in the loose, but I’ll give Reid the nod here, seeing as Warriors lost a few scrum penalties early in Pretoria.

#2 HOOKER: Jonny Matthews v Dougie Hall

One that’s getting called based on overall season impact rather than the final day.

On his last performance for Warriors, Dougie Hall had a stormer. I was a season ticket holder at the time and recall an email sent from Toony wishing him well in retirement, and that his performance-tracker had shown he was one of the hardest workers. However, Hall had effectively been third choice behind Pat McArthur and Fraser Brown most of  that season.

Johnny Matthews did not have his finest hour on Saturday, in fact, he didn’t even make an hour, before George Turner came on to help push the Warriors to victory, but, Matthews’ contribution over the season, the tries…?

I’m tempted to cheat and put Turner in, but Matthews gets the nod.

#3 TIGHT-HEAD: Roussow De Klerk v Zander Fagerson

Even if the first guy hadn’t left Glasgow under a very dark cloud, you’d have to be some player to beat Zander Fagerson. Brilliant back-to-back 80 minute shifts at the business-end of the season. Was getting pinged when Bulls were wheeling in scrums but he won a couple later on, and was immense in the loose. One of the best in the world in his position.

#4 LOCK: Leone Nakarawa v Scott Cummings

Scott Cummings once again proved he is a top-class rugby player. He’s the best lock Scotland have; he scored a try in the final, he was a line-out nuisance, he mauled well, but…

Leone Nakarawa in the 2015 Pro12 Final was off the scale. He played Fijian-style free-rugby to bamboozle Munster and was named POTM. His run and off-load to Ro Harley for the game’s first-try was sensational. He was one of the best locks in the world at that time. Sorry Scott!

#5 LOCK: Jonny Gray v Richie Gray

Well, this is awkward. I’m going to give one of them sibling bragging rights. Can I ask their mum to pick? Who would’ve thought nine years after the younger brother picked up a championship medal, the elder would step into the same jersey, although perhaps with an extra X in size for the 6’ 10” Richie.

An incredibly hard call. Jonny was the nuts and bolts man alongside the flash of Nakawara, Richie is a giant physical presence, a set-piece behemoth who still puts in a big shift around the park despite a spate of injuries and nearing the end of his career.

But, if we’re talking about putting the work in, nobody beats Jonny Gray. His partnership with Nakawara was so vital that he relegated club captain Al Kellock to the bench, and as I’m picking this on at-the-time performance, the younger Gray packs down alongside his teammate.

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#6 BLINDSIDE: Rob Harley v Matt Fagerson

Another tough one, with two of the toughest Warriors there’s been.

As mentioned earlier, Rob Harley opened the scoring in the 2015 final, renowned for his relentless tackling and breakdown work. That season, he also won eight of his 23 Scotland caps. It was arguably his best season for one of the few in the Warriors 200 club.

Unfortunately for Harley, Matt Fagerson’s last two weeks alone propel him into the starting XV.

We’ve oft complained about Scotland lacking genuine ‘hard-men/enforcer’ types, but whatever Franco has been putting in Matt’s water-bottle, he’s turned him into a fury-ball.

First, he went toe-to-toe with the much vaunted Peter O’Mahony, and outmuscled him in his own back-yard, nor did he take a step back when O’Mahony tried to intimidate him.

On Saturday, Fagerson produced a career-defining performance. He was sensational as he won official POTM, smashing into every breakdown and tackle, and carrying with ferocity.

His level didn’t dip, it got higher. One of the greatest performances from a Warrior, ever.

#7: OPENSIDE: Ryan Wilson v Rory Darge

Well, ‘allo Ryan. The cheeky chap ex-capitano, still partying with the new champs as we speak.

Ryan Wilson was underappreciated as a player. His off-ball work, sneakiness and shit-housery was good. However, this wasn’t his best period of form, I feel that came a couple of seasons later.

Rory Darge maybe experienced a dip in form earlier this season, which only made him Test-class, rather than world-class. He played for just under an hour, as he had against Munster, and in that time he helped destroy the vaunted Bulls back-row.

Darge somehow managed to be the worst of Glasgow’s back-rows in the final, despite playing superbly. One of the best aggressive tacklers in the game, he’ll strip it or get right over the ball. The Mish 2.0.

#8: NO8: Josh Strauss v Jack Dempsey

Josh Strauss was a revelation at Warriors. The highly-rated, massively-bearded South African rocked up to Scotstoun and proceeded to carry the ball harder than anyone we’d seen before.  He was immense, and captained the side on the day of the final. Legendary player.

Then, we got Jack Dempsey. An injury-prone journeyman, I thought this was going to end up another Lelia Masaga.
My god, was I wrong.

Potentially the best overseas import we’ve had. (In the forwards anyway, there’s still the backs to go!)

He carried most often, made most metres, made most tackles, and beat most defenders in the final, and still didn’t win POTM, because Matt Fagerson played to a freakish level.

 

#9: SCRUM-HALF: Henry Pyrgos v George Horne

When Ali Price left to shift along the M8, a lot of my fellow Warriors fans were aghast, and insisted that he was a better scrum-half than George Horne. That struck me as the same Kool-Aid drinkers who used to say something similar about Finn Russell. “He’s reckless; he’s always trying to play too fast.” Well, that’s because he was asked to do that. They haven’t appreciated the development of Horneito’s game. Franco has.

Pyrgos was effective, and got himself on the scoresheet in the final with a dominant team, Horne’s just a better player, and was on top of his game in a final where he had to defend and attack.

#10: STAND-OFF: Finn Russell v Tom Jordan

One of the easier selections. Although Jordan’s physicality in defence was crucial in the semi-final, his late yellow card in the final could have been costly … and he also finds himself up against the greatest Scottish talent of the professional era!

Russell’s glorious miss-pass – we’d be seeing that again – to DTH van der Merwe and subsequent touchline conversion in the dying moments of the Ulster semi-final turned around a 9-14 deficit, then he contributed 13 points in the showcase with one try and four conversions. The missing piece for the 2013-14 runners-up.

 

 

#11: LEFT WING: DTH van der Merwe v Kyle Steyn

This might be the hardest of a lot of tough calls.

DTH van der Merwe is the club’s top try-scorer, he played in a lightweight cast to protect a wrist injury in both the semi and final, where he scored tries before leaving for Scarlets. He also scored tries in every group match for Canada at RWC2015 a few months later. He was on fire that season … and we let him go.

Then, we have Kyle Steyn. At the time he came through he seemed like he’d reach ‘effective squad member’ level, he was consistent whether at 13 or wing, but Warriors were rotten.

He is now a championship-winning club captain. A model of consistency and standards, playing to a level which could see him being picked over another van der Merwe at national level.

A coach’s dream.

#12&13: CENTRES: Vernhorne v Huwipulotu

It should really have been “Dunbarnet, then they got injured again, and Pete Horne and Richie ‘plays where he wants’ Vernon were outstanding as a makeshift duo, but…

(A certain coward I know said: “We’ll never win the Pro12 with Horne and Vernon at centre; I’ll get *name protected for GDPR reasons* face tattooed on me if we do”, and he hasn’t)

VernHorne were solid, canny operators. Experienced and game-smart, Richie V slid from 8 to 13 like it weren’t no thang, Horne was Finn Russell’s 12 of choice for his communication but, Huwipulotu have become legend.

Huw Jones made some cack-handed knock-ons against Munster, then he found that line. He wasn’t at his best on Saturday either, but he scored a try. Huw was treated poorly first time round, but came back a better player, and Tuipulotu has turned into one of the best 12s in the world.

He may have been overshadowed on Saturday by the back-rows, but he leads by example.

#14: RIGHT-WING: Tommy Seymour v Sebastian Cancelliere

Seb Cancelliere’s overall scoring record has been exceptional. The intercept and subsequent charge down the pitch to stop Bulls’ momentum was vital on Saturday, but Kyle Rowe has played  – and excelled – in his injured stead for most of the season.

Seymour may not have been amongst the starriest performers in the knock-out stages, but he had turned into one of the best wingers in Europe at that point.

#15: FULL-BACK Stuart Hogg v Josh McKay

Stuart Hogg was conspicuously absent from the 2013-14 final defeat to Leinster. He knuckled down, played reasonably well in the 2015 final, and got himself a try after some Russell magic.

But, I am picking on the relevant season’s work, and not many have been better than Josh McKay, who was as outstanding in the final as he was in the season.

Every aerial bomb defused, he chews yards, the pick-up on the retreat was a thing a beauty.

In the three seasons Josh McKay has been at Glasgow, he has performed better in high level games than Hogg. He has been more consistent than Hogg, and his skill-set is better.

 

 

HEAD COACH: Gregor Townsend v Franco Smith

Gregor Townsend took over a Glasgow side which had been made competitive by Sean Lineen, then added his attacking nous to the game-plan, and was aided and abetted by a good group of players coming through.

Franco Smith inherited a disaster. A Warriors team, loaded with internationals, but who seemed sluggish and clueless. We got pumped 76-14 off Leinster. It was shameful.

The previous regime which left confidence shattered, and the terrible recruitment and replacement policy of the SRU didn’t help, which makes the job Franco Smith has done even more remarkable.

Iain Hay’s Warriors 2015 & 2024 Dream Team:

15. Josh McKay (2024)

 

14. Tommy Seymour (2015)

13. Huw Jones (2024)

12. Sione Tuipulotu (2024)

11. Kyle Steyn (2024)

 

10. Finn Russell (2015)

9. George Horne (2024)

 

1. Gordon Reid (2015)

2. Johnny Matthews (2024)

3. Zander Fagerson (2024)

4. Leone Nakarawa (2015)

5. Jonny Gray (2015)

6. Matt Fagerson (2024)

7. Rory Darge (2024)

8. Jack Dempsey (2024)


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About Iain Hay 74 Articles
New to the freelancing journalistic world as of August 2019, Iain has previously written for The Scottish Rugby Blog since 2017, covering matches for Glasgow Warriors, Scotland and opinion pieces. Can also often be heard on their podcast flapping his gums about the oval-ball (technically, it’s ellipsoidal) game and being pedantic. Is rumoured to believe that Finn Russell is The Messiah. Does the Twitter thing, but doesn’t like it.

12 Comments

  1. Richie Gray for Johnnie Gray……..otherwise……as good a pick as any !! Hogg doesn’t deserve a place……only ever played for himself !!

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  2. Imagine the team the Warriors could have had over the past few years had it not been asset-stripped by wealthier clubs. The Irish manage to keep their players at home, but they have salary budgets of £6.5m compared to £4.2m for Glasgow and £3.8m for Edinburgh. Which makes the Warriors’ success all the more outstanding. Talented individuals who pull together as a team and are totally committed to the cause. Most of last Saturday’s boys would be in my combo, with only a handful of exceptions. As for who is the better coach :-)!

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    • I think your budgets are at least 10 years out of date. All are significantly higher. The Irish keep their players not just with high salaries, but having 4 teams means they can enforce their no play for Ireland unless you play in Ireland policy. And a very generous tax break on pensions courtesy of the Irish Govt.

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  3. It’s a really interesting point that Glasgow won in 2015 when arguably, they had a number of good club players rather a similar number of world class players that played this season. No disrespect meant but the likes of Hall, De Klerk, Pyrgos, Vernon would likely fall into that category and yet the team was greater than the sum of its parts; was that to Townsend’s huge credit? Or was it that the class players then were the ones who dragged Glasgow through? Nakawara was amazing in 2015 and don’t think anyone has stood out in quite the same way this time round but the overall quality of players seems higher. And agree, league is tougher with the SA teams, even if because of the awkward logistics as well as the physicality of their teams. Does suggest to me that something needs doing at Edinburgh – Kinghorn’s comments were very revealing when he moved on and his performance level seems to have stepped up. Possibly the likes of Price, Healy and others have suffered going the other way. Hope the Glasgow gnarliness spreads through the whole national squad when they gather in preparation for a tour which really should be a demonstration of ruthlessness against lower ranked opposition.

    • Glasgow 2015 had a good number of players who could and did win matches by individual brilliance. Hogg, DTH Van der Merwe, Russell, Matawalu, Nakarawa, Strauss, arguably Dunbar and Seymour. The current Glasgow team is full of good players and make a terrific team, but no way do the have the individual brilliance as the 2015 lot. Oh and Pyrgos was the glue, the oil that kept them turning over

      • Apart from Russell and Nakarawa I would disagree: Horne scores more tries than the magical Matawalu and Canciliere more than Seymour, and Jones / Tuipolotu more than Dunbar (although he is still one of my favourite players of all time). A fun game to play after our best ever Warriors season!

  4. R Gray (for set piece alone), Hogg, DTH are all exceptional talents and simply couldn’t be left out.

    Nice to see the key men in the pack of the current vintage are all Scottish qualified.

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    • FF even the Wilson years his Glasgow team still made the playoffs, yeh they got pumped and Wilson rightly paid the price but the players embarrassingly rolled over that night.
      That culture and blueprint established under Townsend still runs through Glasgow. Franco has done great evaluating them mentally to that next level. But what Townsend did with players nobody had heard off and some rookies was remarkable at the time.

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  5. Fun article – both sides are legendary!

    You pick Smith over Townsend, saying Townsend inherited good players coming through but then only pick 5/15 of them for the combined team???

    Think Townsend broke the mould, it was the first meaningful thing a Scottish team had ever won in the pro era. He might have built on good foundations but he created a winning culture that has ultimately endured at Glasgow despite the brief Wilson years. Smith has been a revelation and the URC is a much tougher proposition now. I couldn’t separate them but I also can’t accept yet another attempt to detract from Toonie’s achievement which was game-changing for Scottish rugby.

    Also think there’s some revisionism going on with Hogg. McKay is a fine player but Hogg was world class. Shame he’s such a pillock.

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    • FF even the Wilson years his Glasgow team still made the playoffs, yeh they got pumped and Wilson rightly paid the price but proven international players embarrassingly rolled over that night.
      That culture and blueprint established under Townsend still runs through Glasgow. Franco has done great elevating them mentally to that next level.
      But what Townsend did with players nobody had heard off and some rookies was remarkable at the time.
      You could argue the league is much harder now though with the SA teams.

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  6. Love this content – a great fun read, would love more of this!

    That team would chuck the pill about for sure !

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