OLLIE SMITH says that Glasgow Warriors head coach Franco Smith has told his squad to prepare for a gruelling end to the 2022-23 season, with the target being to reach the final of both the United Rugby Championship and the Challenge Cup.
Glasgow are currently fourth in the URC table with three games of the regular season left to play, meaning they are in good shape for a home draw in the play-off quarter-finals. Meanwhile. they host the Dragons in the round of 16 in the Challenge Cup on 1st April.
All 17 Warriors players involved in Scotland’s Six Nations squad checked in at Scotstoun on Monday morning, but for the likes of Zander Fagerson, George Turner, Sione Tuipulotu, Huw Jones and club captain Kyle Steyn it was a quick catch-up before taking some time off to recover ands refresh after a gruelling international window.
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However, the likes of Smith, Rory Darge and George Horne – who have had little or no game-time during in recent weeks – could well feature in Saturday evening’s URC clash against fifth in the table Munster at Thomond Park.
“Yeah, we’ve got a big run,” said Smith. “Franco talks about having 10 games left which would mean we would get to both finals of both competitions. We certainly believe we can do that, it’s now in our hands to do that. We’ve got a good run of games, hopefully have a home stretch certainly in Europe, and then in the [URC] play-offs, so hopefully we can get some good results.”
On a personal level, Smith knows that a strong end to the season will push his case for a more central role with Scotland as the build-up to this Autumn’s World Cup gathers pace.
He admits to being slightly frustrated at not getting any game-time during the first four rounds of the Six Nations but is realistic about the challenge he faces in trying to wrestle the Scotland No 15 jersey from centurion Stuart Hogg (who missed the Italy game through injury).
“Obviously, when you’re in the squad you want to play, but being understudy to Hoggy is no mean feat,” said Smith, who was Scotland’s joint top carrier against Italy alongside Blair Kinghorn with 114 metres made. “It’s going to be difficult to try and get him out the squad, so to speak, but whatever is best for the team I’ll happily wait for my chances and hopefully take them when they comes.
“The chat from the coaches is that they back everyone in the squad to put in a good performance whenever they get the opportunity. I believe they have confidence in me, and I assume they trust me given that they put me in for the last game of the championship.
“I can only do so much and perform my role to the best of my ability for the rest of the team and hopefully I did that against Italy. There was maybe limited opportunities in that second half of that game in terms of attacking rugby but hopefully I’ve done enough.
“World Cups are always a goal – it’s what you dream about as a kid – but I’m just going to get stuck back into playing at Glasgow for the next couple of weeks and see where I am come summertime.”
Smith played a fair bit of rugby as an outside-centre as he came through the ranks but now regards himself as a specialist full-back. However, he has also filled in as a winger for Warriors this season and hopes that this versatility can work in his favour as national head coach Gregor Townsend ponders his squad options for the World Cup.
“It’s all strings to my bow,” he reflected. “You look at a player like Blair Kinghorn who can cover the wings, full-back and 10 as well. I feel comfortable on the wing, while 13 is obviously a bit different, but wherever I get a run for either Scotland or Glasgow I’m happy to play. I’m pretty fluid.”
If Glasgow can tighten up the defence and minimise the number of penalties then they are a difficult proposition for anyone in the URC and could readily make a couple of finals. Smith and the rest of the coaching team have been doing a great job but I can see a challenge coming up. When everyone is available and in form there are going to be a few difficult selection decisions for starting positions to have to be made.