NOT everyone who sees the Promised Land gets to complete the journey. Glasgow Warriors can now view a clear path to the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup, but they are all too aware that there are still significant obstacles in the way – beginning on Saturday when Lyon come to Scotstoun looking for revenge.
The 42-22 win in France last weekend took Glasgow to 10 points in Pool Three, and while leaders Saracens remain favourites to go through as group winners, the Warriors know that two more bonus-point wins could well be enough for them to qualify as one of the best runners-up. But, as assistant coach Mike Blair explained, there is no way they will presume that Lyon are coming to town merely to make up the numbers. And even if the French club decide to select a second string, that will not necessarily make the home team’s task any easier.
“We’re really pleased with the result against Lyon, but we’ve probably been quite tough on the players on some of the performance aspects,” Blair said. “So we’re aware that there’s stuff to work on. We’re also aware that sometimes French teams, when they’ve got less to play for and they’ve got more of a free spirit with the amount of quality they’ve got, can be dangerous. So we’re aware that we need to be firing on all cylinders again to get the victory.
“Them making changes could be more dangerous. I think the Glasgow performance of the season so far has been the Scarlets game – and we had a lot of guys resting for that. Often guys come in with a point to prove. They’re going really well in the French Championship at the moment, they’re fourth in it and they’ll have players desperate to get involved in those kind of games, so that could be even more dangerous.”
As well as driving home that message about the danger of underestimating Lyon, Blair and his fellow-coaches will remind the squad that, no matter how impressive their home record may be in the PRO14, in the Champions Cup their two wins have come on the road, while at Scotstoun they have lost to Saracens without taking so much as a losing bonus.
“Ten points away from home is great, but we didn’t get any points at home, so that’s somewhere that we need to gain something back on that,” the former Scotland scrum-half continued. “The home games are so important. When Lyon come to us, we want to put on a great performance for our support here, because they were brilliant out in Lyon. You could hear a pocket in the far corner and I know a few of the players said that going back to the halfway line after scoring a try it felt like a home game for them, so we are keen to put something on for them.
“We’ll go into the game as we go into all games, with a desire to win. The way our attack is and our philosophy means we play a lot of rugby anyway, so getting that balance right, building a score against them and then obviously the bonus point is something we’re keen on, but we’re aware that we have to win the game first.”
Leaving Lyon with a bonus point after scoring five tries was a cause for serious celebration, but what has been really noticeable in the Warriors camp this week has been their unflinching self-criticism. They did a lot right in the game, but they also made mistakes from which Lyon profited, and committed other errors which on a different day would not have gone unpunished. When it came to convincing the players that they could do better this week, the coaches had a lot of video footage to back up their arguments.
“We looked at the time in the game when we gave the penalties away and we piggy-backed penalties. So we gave them opportunities where, for example, we were on their line and we gave away a soft penalty with Oli Kebble and then we gave away a penalty about 30 seconds later. So we went from a situation where we were right on top of them to suddenly having a lineout just outside our 22.
“We’re aware they have a very strong lineout. Jon Humphreys was talking earlier on about the quality of the jumpers they’ve got and he hasn’t seen anything like that in the club game with the three guys they had at four, five and six. So, that’s an area that we’ve got to stay on top of, although we have done well in that area. I think just the personnel they’ve got there. [Noa] Nakaitaci didn’t really get into the game. We did well to keep the ball away from him and pressure him when he did get the ball, but a guy like him, if he gets a little bit of room, is dangerous and they’ve got players like him all across the pitch.”
While the players will not be allowed to get ahead of themselves, the whole club are well aware that they have a golden opportunity to reach the last eight for only the second time in their history. The only guarantee of going through is to win the group, but, having been a maths teacher, head coach Dave Rennie is well aware of the probabilities and permutations when it comes to qualifying in second place, and has discussed the matter with the coaches.
“There’s an eye on how many points traditionally can get you through,” Blair explained. “That 19/20 points is a good marker, but it can change each year.”