Matawalu brings some welcome chaos to Warriors’ structure

Two tries against Harlequins on Saturday the ideal start to the season for live-wire Fijian

Niko Matawalu
Niko Matawalu in action for Glasgow Warriors during their Famous Grouse Pre-Season Challenge clash against Harlequins at North Inch in Perth on Saturday ***Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson***

DAVE RENNIE has been pretty clear this pre-season about the areas where his team must improve in order to fulfil their undoubted potential. A key focus has been the team’s skill-set – specifically their ‘catch-pass’ and their ‘carry-and-clean’ – which must be sharpened up in order to facilitate a more ruthless edge when it comes to building and maintaining pressure against the best defences in Europe.

There has also been a big focus on set-piece and particularly line-out defence, which was an area where the Warriors found themselves hopelessly exposed against Exeter Chiefs and Leinster in the opening two rounds of Europe last season.

Rennie spoke a lot about instilling ‘brutality’ after arriving in Scotland from his native New Zealand last summer, and, having had a full pre-season to prepare for the coming campaign, he believes that his side is now equipped to go toe-to-toe against the true heavyweights of European rugby despite a distinct lack of new muscle coming into the squad.

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It is not going to be all thunder and fury, however, for as long as the squad roster includes some of the most exciting broken-field runners in the game at the moment, there will always be an element of the joie de vivre which characterised the Gregor Townsend era.

There is Stuart Hogg, Adam Hastings, George Horne and, of course, the irrepressible Niko Matawalu – who chipped in with two tries and a few more impudent interjections in the team’s 50-17 defeat of Harlequins in their first warm-up match of the season in Perth on Saturday.

Rennie is a pragmatist, which helps explain why he used the effervescent Fijian as sparingly last season, but the Kiwi coach is not completely immune to the value added by the player, and he has even had the 29-year-old training at scrum-half in recent weeks, where his potential to change the game – for better or worse – is far greater than is the case in his usual berth of recent seasons on the wing.

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“We’ve trained him a lot there, but even from a November point of view he could well be snapped up by Fiji so we’re not putting all our eggs in that basket,” explained Rennie.

“He was great against Quins. Not just the couple of flashy tries he scored – he gave us a lot of go forward and worked hard off the ball. But he’s a bit of a free spirit and I’m not convinced he’ll run to structure if we put him at nine too often,” the coach added.

For his part, Matawalu will take his chances wherever they come.

“That’s the thing about rugby, if you love rugby you can play anywhere,” he beamed, after Saturday’s man-of-the-match performance. “If you enjoy rugby, it’s exciting, you can just jump into any position, I guess.

“For me, I just prefer both [scrum-half and wing]. That’s what rugby players do, prefer both. Anything could happen, whether you play wing or nine. You know all the systems.”

Comparing Gregor Townsend’s approach with that of Rennie, Matawalu added: “They seem kinda different for me, I guess. We need to step up out of our comfort zone because Dave likes to be detailed and stuff. But when it’s time to play rugby, I think they are the same.”

It looked at one point like Matawalu was on course for a hat-trick on Saturdau, when he broke from his own 22 with about 10 minutes to go, but he opted to pass left to Kaleem Baretto and the young scrum-half was swallowed up by Quins’ cover defence.

Afterwards, Matawalu expressed mild regret at not going himself, and added that his decision on this occasion should not be taken as evidence that he has lost some of his ambition.

“I will do that (an 80-metre finish) but we’ve just started the season,” he laughed.

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About David Barnes 3906 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.