GLASGOW WARRIORS No8 Jack Dempsey says the attitude and work-rate of back-row colleague Rory Darge reminds him of his old Waratahs and Wallabies team-mate Michael Hooper, one of world rugby’s all-time greats.
Darge was named man-of-the-match at the end of Friday’s United Rugby Championship season-opener against Ulster in Belfast, further confirming his status as a key man in the Warriors squad following his switch west from Edinburgh – where he struggled to command game time under Richard Cockerill – at the tail-end of last season.
Dempsey, who was making his Warriors debut, was impressed. “I thought he was outstanding,” said the 14-times capped Australian. “He had two nice pilfers, from memory, and he was unlucky not to get a couple more.
“His fitness is world class. I kind of noticed that in pre-season with some of the scores he gets and metres he runs at training.
“Before I came up here, I played pretty much almost every game next to Michael Hooper and that’s the first thing that stands out – in terms of when you’ve got a seven like that who can just run all day – for 85 or 90 minutes if need be.
“I’m not going to piss in his pocket too much,” Dempsey added. “It’s the first game of the year, but for me, personally, as a ball-running back-rower, to play next to a guy like that who you know is going to just keep rocking up with the same energy for every minute of that game is huge.
“I love a back-rower who has got some footwork, some evasive skills and an offload – I’m looking forward to building more chemistry with him.”
Pressed on the Hooper comparison, Dempsey was keen to manage expectation levels on Darge, but couldn’t hide his admiration.
“I’m definitely not comparing him to Michael Hopper just yet but I think the way he goes about his work ethic, not only in the gym but his extras … I mean we’re working together pretty much every day, with Tom Gordon as well, as a three we work on our breakdown and our pilfering and you could see tonight that he got a couple,” he said.
“Rory is 21 and he’s doing all the right things at this age, that’s what I’m alluding to.
“Obviously, Scottish Rugby has got Hamish Watson, who is probably the best seven up here anyway, so I’m looking forward seeing what he [Darge] can do.
“But the big thing for me is that I am just glad to be playing in that calibre of back-row, and we haven’t even seen Ally Miller yet, Matt Fagerson is coming back as well, and Rob Harley is a club legend, so I’m just looking forward to this deep back-row we’ve got and building connections with all of them.”
Despite Darge’s heroics on Friday night, Warriors could’t manage a winning start to the season, although two bonus points in a 35-29 defeat meant it wasn’t a completely wasted expedition to the Kingspan Stadium.
Next up for Warriors is back-to-back home games against two of the South African sides – the Sharks and the Lions – who have been added to the URC this season.
Having played Super Rugby against those sides for the Waratahs during last six seasons before making the move north to join Warriors, Dempsey is ideally placed to give his new team-mates an insight into what to expect.
“It’s pretty black and white, in my opinion, especially as a back-row forward,” he said. “They’re going to look to bully you. Their pack and centres are going to look to get on top of you in the first 20.
“If you run high as a ball-carrier you are going to get held up and driven back, and that’s where they get their momentum.
“They are going to have a few cowboys in their backline, who are going to shoot up hard and look for intercepts and big hits – that’s the way they like to build energy, with those flashy kinds of plays.
“So, for us, it’s about discipline, it’s about execution at set-piece and its about phase play – and line-speed as well.
“We’ve got two home games coming up now. I think that’s a positive to have those opportunities to host South African teams, so we’re hopefully going to get the ball rolling next week.”