AS anyone who has spent a Six Nations weekend in Wales will testify, Cardiff city centre can get pretty hairy on a Saturday evening – but it is not the shenanigans going on in the pubs and clubs St Mary’s Street that is worrying the Glasgow Warriors coaching team this week.
The Scots side have a job to do down there in four nights’ time at the Arms Park, which is just around the corner from that famous hard-drinking thoroughfare – and while the home team are not quite yet holed up in the last chance saloon, the fact that they are zero wins from two outings in the Guinness PRO14 so far this season ensures that there will be a dangerous element of desperation thrown into the mix.
The Welshmen will be without their British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton, who was ruled out of action yesterday [Tuesday] afternoon for four months with a neck injury, but it is the desire of the collective to earn some respect in front of their own crowd rather than the brilliance of any individual which is the principle threat to the Warriors as they look to extend their own record this season to three from three.
Despite their positive recent record, Warriors head coach Dave Rennie made it very clear after last Saturday afternoon’s victory over the Ospreys at Scotstoun that he thinks his side have still not hit the standards he demands of them; and attack coach Jason O’Halloran echoed that sentiment yesterday [Tuesday], before adding that a step up in intensity will be necessary this coming weekend if they want to keep their winning start to the season rolling.
“I think they [the Blues] will be a very, very desperate side. We’ll probably be favourites in supporters’ eyes but we don’t want to get complacent. It is in games like this that if you take your eye off the ball you get knocked over,” he said.
“It is in front of their fans, who will be expecting a big effort after a couple of losses, and they’ll be desperate to deliver – so that will bring a massive amount of physicality. We need to match that and be a lot more accurate with our skills so we can maintain the ball for longer periods and dictate the pace of the game.”
“I was really worried about the Ospreys game. I know they are a quality team and they didn’t play particularly well the first week [at home against Zebre]. It’s similar against Cardiff this week – they’ll be inspired to play really well,” he continued.
“They [Ospreys] did teach us a lot of lessons around the combative side of the game. I thought we came a long second at the breakdown. As Dave [Rennie] said afterwards, we didn’t win any races and that slowed down our ball. That allowed them to put more line speed in and force errors in our attack. I think they had over 60 per cent of the ball which led to us making over 230 tackles. We can’t continue to do that week after week as it will take a toll on us. And if we want to play at tempo, the last thing you want is a bunch of fatigued guys who’ve been making so many tackles.”
There is nothing more dangerous than an opponent with nothing to lose so it is quite right that the Warriors are viewing this Blues encounter as a banana skin that they need to be at their best to skip by. But it is also entirely right that the Warriors take the view that they should stick to their own principles and their own high standards in order to achieve that goal.
“Ultimately we’ve got to have faith in our squad and also focus on our own performance. I think with the better sides, they don’t care about the opposition, they get their own nuts and bolts sorted out,” said O’Halloran. “Leinster played Cardiff last week and they played Leinster’s game. All good sides do that. Crusaders play Crusaders’ game. That’s a lesson we should take. Sure you bring in some tactics to exploit weaknesses you might see in them. Ultimately getting the Glasgow game sorted is the main element for us.”
“Against Ospreys I think one big lesson is that individually I don’t think we prepared particularly well. There were a lot of individual performances that weren’t up to what they should have been. The challenge for us this week is to get that right from one to 23 … prepare well. You’ll here [New Zealand head coach] Steve Hansen say time and again: ‘Prepare bone deep and you’ll perform well’. I don’t thing we prepared well enough last week and we’ll have to put that right.”
“There’s quality amongst that [Cardiff] group. When you’ve got experienced guys like [number eight] Nick Williams, [centre] Ray Lee-Lo and [fly-half] Matthew Morgan is a real talent, too. If you don’t respect them they can make you look silly.”
Jason O’Halloran on …
… Tommy Seymour’s comeback?
“I think he is ready to go now if he needs to. He’s enthusiastic and energetic. We gave him an extra week, ten days over and above the other guys. I think he’s be pretty keen to have a run, potentially.”
… the importance of Finn Russell to the squad?
“Finn brings so many dimensions to the game that he’s crucial to us. He is a little bit of a mixed bag, and I think he’d admit that himself, but like a lot of the guys it was his first game back [against the Ospreys] so it was just a bit of ring rust. I think he’ll be 100 per cent better this week.”
… what Finn Russell gained from the Lions?
“Just the knowledge that he’s there or thereabouts in terms of selection to that group. It’s four years to the next tour and in terms of his selection as a first five-eighth, he’ll be at his very, very best when the next Lions tour comes around – he’ll know what is required to be selected. So that gives him a goal which is what you need – if you are not striving to get to the next level, it is very often the case that you don’t play as well at the level you are currently at.”
… Alex Dunbar scoring two tries versus the Ospreys?
“He was outstanding against Connacht as well, in a defensive role; and against the Ospreys we got to see the attacking side of his game. I thought he showed great pace for the first try and a real hunger and desire to get over the line for the second one, which was crucial to get us that bonus point. He’s a senior member of the side, he’s played over 100 games now, and I think it is great to see him in such good nick physically. It has been a long while since he’s been 100 percent fit, but you can see the benefit of that with the way he is playing at the moment.”
… whether Callum Gibbins can replace Simone Favaro in the hearts of the Scotstoun faithful?
“They are very similar in terms of their work ethic and their want to be physical and dominate that contact area. With Callum you also get a really good awareness of the systems, whereas with Simone you would get times when he would rush out the line and it would either be a big hit or a big line-break for the opposition. So, Callum’s accuracy, and the fact that he is a smart guy when we’ve got so many young loose forwards, is really beneficial to the group. He can become a really good mentor to the likes of Matt Smith and Matt Fagerson.”