IF you were looking for a speedy replacement in a key position with the Heineken Champions Cup just days ago, you could hardly choose better than a vastly experienced player who has already won the competition twice. Add in the fact that tighthead prop Petrus du Plessis spent seven years playing for Saracens, the team who visit Scotstoun on Sunday in the first round of pool games, and it seems apparent that Glasgow Warriors have made an excellent acquisition.
The 37-year-old South African, who has signed for the rest of the season from London Irish, and will go straight into the matchday 23 for Sunday’s Champions Cup game against Saracens. Tighthead had become a particularly problematic position for Glasgow as Siua Halanukonuka was already out injured when Zander Fagerson joined the casualty list last month. Halanukonuka is still several weeks away from making a return, while Fagerson’s ankle injury is expected to keep him out until well into the new year. Adam Nicol, 21, and D’Arcy Rae, 23, were the two tightheads involved in last weekend’s win over Zebre.
It was during his time with Saracens that Du Plessis enjoyed his greatest success, being part of the squad that won two Champions Cups and three English Premiership titles. Having joined from Nottingham in 2010, he left Saracens for London Irish in 2017.
Du Plessis, who has already started training with his new team-mates, explained yesterday that the transfer went through swiftly, and revealed the important role played in it by Kelly Brown, the former Warriors and Scotland forward who is now a coach with Saracens. “It happened really, really quickly. Thursday evening I got a call from Dave Rennie and he was wanting to talk to me about where I am at the moment and what, as he would say, nick I’m in – how much I’ve been playing and what I’ve been doing.
“I explained to him I had a decent season last year at Irish, played every Premiership game. This year I played a couple of big games at the beginning, but then they were looking for me to mentor a few of the youngsters and get them up and running for the Premiership next year.
“Then the right people got in touch with the club, and between London Irish and Glasgow they sorted it out for me to come here today. I arrived last night. It took two days and here I am. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. We had an intense session this morning and I felt I fitted in nicely.
“Funnily enough, last week there was [a chance] to go to other clubs maybe on loan, because there’s a massive tighthead crisis in the Premiership as well. I bumped into the Saracens A team last Monday and Kelly Brown was the coach, so I sat down with Kelly and said ‘this has come about, talk to me about it’.
“He had nothing but admiration for Glasgow. He spoke really highly of them, and said just as long as I could get my head around the weather. . . . He gave me a lot of insight, and it was all true when I got here. I’m thankful for that.”
Naturally, Du Plessis has very fond memories of his time at Saracens, when he won three Premiership titles to go with those two Champions Cups. But, while very respectful of what his old club have achieved, he is certainly not in awe of them, and is optimistic about Glasgow’s chances of going toe to toe with them on Sunday.
“I was very fortunate to be at Saracens at a time when we won the cup twice. What better game to go into for the Warriors than my old club? It’s going to be a fantastic outing on Sunday.
“We know Saracens will stretch you and test you in every phase of the game, whether it’s scrums, lineout, mauls, kicking game, defence, attack. There’s a good saying: you know exactly what they’re going to do and you know exactly how to stop it, but you have to do it by being more physical, more urgent than them and do things better than them on the day.
“The two teams, for me, are very similar and want the same outcomes. They are dedicated to getting things right. I can imagine on Sunday it will come down to physicality and work rate.
“From what I’ve seen this morning at the session – and hopefully at tomorrow’s session, which will be high intensity as well – I can tell already that this club is beyond professional. It’s where it should be for a championship club. I’ve spoken to a lot of players who have played here quite a lot, and they feel like the club has come a long way in the last few years, and it’s brilliant to see.
“There’s no real recipe for who can end on top when it comes to the European Cup. However, I would say that culture plays a massive role, and the culture that Glasgow have at the minute, the boys are tight. They get on really well, they look after each other off the pitch and on the pitch, and that’s a good starting point. That’s where I think Glasgow is doing things right.”
The Warriors certainly appear to have done another thing right in signing someone of Du Plessis’ character, and head coach Dave Rennie is delighted by how quickly the new man has adapted. “Petrus coming in gives us a lot of experience,” Rennie said. “We know that’s going to be important against a side like Saracens who have the ability to take care of the set piece and pin you in the corners. We were fortunate to get someone of his quality.
“The key for us is we need someone who can potentially give us an edge, especially at scrum time. Outside of that, he’s an explosive athlete, he’s a good man, he’s slotted in quickly.
“He’s very professional. He spent a big chunk of last night trying to get his head around a lot of the stuff we’re doing. It’s a big week for him.”
MEANWHILE, Toulon RC have announced the signing of Warriors second-row Brian Alainu’uese on a one year deal, with the 24-year-old New Zealander apparently free to play as soon as the French authorities clear his registration.
Alainu’uese has not played for Warriors since last October due to a knee followed by an ankle injury, and his contract was due to run out in the summer, with assistant coach Kenny Murray indicating last month that he was not in line to be offered a new deal, but added that: “He is injured at the moment and has not played for a while. He is out of contract next season but as far as we are concerned, at the moment, he is in contract with the club this season.”
Warriors have not confirmed the player’s departure and he is currently in Largs with the squad at their training camp ahead of Sunday’s clash against Saracens.