ALI PRICE joined up with the Scotland squad last night [Sunday] to begin preparation for the start of the Six Nations in just under a fortnight’s time with a spring in his step, despite his team’s loss to Saracens in their final European Champions Cup pool match on Saturday.
The scrum-half played well against Saracens, scoring an excellent opportunist try, and is in a good place psychologically having learned some important lessons about himself during the last year, which he believes puts him in a strong position to deal with trials and tribulations of professional sport.
Price entered the last Six Nations as the man in possession of the Scotland number nine jersey, but things started to unravel after a catastrophic opening match of the campaign, during which he threw an interception pass which gifted Wales the score which set them on their way to an emphatic victory.
With Greig Laidlaw returning from injury, he was relegated to the bench and his morale took a significant dip, contributing to a loss of that sharpness which had been key to his rapid rise during the previous 18-months. He ended up dropping out of the Glasgow Warriors squad during their run-in to the end of the season, with George Horne emerging from the shadows to become the new great hope at scrum-half.
To Price’s credit, he has bounced back splendidly, and after vying with Horne for the Warriors number nine jersey throughout this season, he seems to have edged himself back to the top of the pecking order after being selected to start in both of the club’s recent European outings.
He understands that he will almost certainly end up playing second fiddle to Laidlaw again during this Six Nations, but believes he now has a better idea of how to cope with that role.
“I’m much better equipped in terms of how I can deal with it mentally,” he said. “Compared to this time last year, I’m in a much better place. I guess all of that had to go on for me to get to where I’m at. Whatever situation happens, I’m better prepared because I’ve been through it.
“It’s about realising workload, realising everything. Sometimes you just have to be patient. If something is working for the team then it’s working for the team. The team is the priority here.
“This will be my third year of it, but every year I’m learning more about myself. Things don’t always go your way, I guess, but until something happens you don’t know how you’re going to react, and I maybe didn’t react as well as I could have last year. But I’m definitely in a better spot now because of it.”
Price won’t have done his chances of prising that Scotland number nine jersey away from Laidlaw any harm with his performance on Saturday, when his sniping from the base was a key factor in rattling Saracens during the opening hour – although the player was quick to praise his forwards, who have been criticised as lightweight in recent weeks but really fronted up against one of the most highly rated packs in European club rugby.
“I think the job of a nine is easy when you’ve got some go-forward ball,” he said. “I’ve waited for that for a while, to be able to play my game and challenge a bit.
“George and I have played quite a lot – he has started and I have started – so it’s nice to get a bit of momentum and a feel for playing,” he added. “I’m back enjoying myself, which I think is the key thing. I kind of lost that at the end of last season, but I’m now really enjoying my rugby.”
Ultimately, however, Warriors fell away during the final 20-minutes on Saturday, and Price acknowledged that they will have to raise their level another notch if they are to cause a major upset when they return to Allianz Park at the end of March, having drawn the Londoners again in the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup.
“Saracens are a good team and you need to put it in for the 80 minutes,” he said. “Maybe that’s where we came a bit unstuck. For 50 or 60 minutes we were right in it but come the end of the game we seem to get camped in our own 22. We were just kicking it to them and they were running back. You can’t do that because that amount of pressure will always tell.
“In the second half we maybe weren’t as clinical as we would have liked. Our kicking wasn’t as accurate as it was in the first half when we were playing on the front foot and making it hard for them to come out at us. It was much more difficult to do that in the second half.
“I don’t think it was physical exhaustion. We pride ourselves on our fitness. These games are always going to be tough. It’s not far off test match intensity really. Teams get momentum and when they are on top of you it seems like they then get the bounce of the ball. You need little moments in the game where that changes and it didn’t quite happen for us in the last 15. That’s a shame, but you have to credit Sarries for coming at us.”
Warriors are back in action on Friday night when Ospreys visit Scotstoun in the Guinnes PRO14. They will go into that game without Dave Rennie who is back in New Zealand for his son’s wedding, but the head coach says that won’t impact his team’s preparation or performance.
“We’ll be fine,” insisted Rennie. “Kenny Murray will be in charge so there will be a Scotsman at the helm. I will be watching the game live. It will be at half past eight in the morning back home. I don’t need to be in Kenny’s ear, passing things on, but I will be watching closely.”