HEALTHY competition is something that all coaches try to encourage in their squads, and at Glasgow there is perhaps no better example of it than the rivalry within the group of hookers. Not only does Warriors coach Danny Wilson have three Scotland internationals fighting for the No 2 jersey – Fraser Brown, George Turner and Grant Stewart – he also has Johnny Matthews, who has been in impressive early-season form after focusing on improving certain aspects of his game over the summer.
Matthews is well aware that his own hard work in the close season is part of the reason he is flourishing now, but he also credits Brown for some selfless co-operation in training. “I worked quite closely with Fraser and Danny on my throwing,” the 28-year-old said when asked to account for his good form. “That was something personally I felt I had to work on. Fraser is really good at driving that and Danny is really good with throws as well.
“Your set-pieces as a hooker are your bread and butter and there’s no getting around that. If you’re not consistent with that then you’re not going to get picked. It was something I had to work on to get myself into a position to push to have more gametime.
“There’s a lot of competition there, and Fraser, George and Grant are all Scottish internationals. But we’re quite close as a hooker group, already willing to learn off each other. It’s a tough group but a close-knit one. We all want to make each other better.
“Even when the guys weren’t involved in pre-season they would still be giving you bits of advice, suggesting you try this or that. It’s about doing what’s best for the team.”
Matthews started Glasgow’s recent game against Ulster and hopes to be back in the squad on Saturday, when the Warriors are at home to the Lions, the only South African team in the URC who have so far won a game away from home. “This is my third year [with Glasgow] and I feel I’ve improved as the seasons have gone on,” he continued. “I’m just looking to get as much game time as possible.”
It is natural for players to improve in a professional environment, of course, but it should not be forgotten that Matthews was a more-than-decent performer with Boroughmuir – otherwise he would not have caught the Warriors’ eye in the first place. He was the Premiership’s top try-scorer in one of his seasons at Meggetland, and is perhaps being a touch too self-deprecating when he suggests that he should not take too much credit for that feat.
“I sat on the back of a pretty good maul!,” he continued. “It was quite a natural time, not less coaching but maybe less structure per se. And then when you come to the professional level it’s the little one- or five-per-centers that make the real difference.
“Stuff you could maybe get away with in the Premiership you can’t get away with at pro level. It’s about working on those small changes to make you a better player.
“Fraser and George have both got pretty good try-scoring records here. We’re a team that can get itself into good positions five metres out and then it’s down to the pack to dominate the opposition and get over the line. If I’m the one on the back touching down, then all the better.”
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