WHEN a team are top of their PRO14 conference and within touching distance of a place in the Champions Cup quarter-finals, it would be overstating the case to suggest that they have a crisis on their hands. But, after losing twice to Edinburgh, Glasgow Warriors have at the very least suffered a loss of momentum, and go into Saturday’s league match against Benetton in some need of a morale-boosting result.
It was the nature of the defeats to Edinburgh, rather than the scorelines themselves, that has given Dave Rennie greatest grounds for concern as he prepares for the trip to Treviso. In the end, the Warriors were only a missed conversion away from getting what would have been a scarcely merited losing bonus point at Scotstoun, but both there and at Murrayfield a week earlier they were pummelled up front.
With Fraser Brown and George Turner still six or seven weeks away from a return to action following injury, Rennie will have little option but to persist with the inexperienced Grant Stewart and the rarely used Kevin Bryce as his hookers over the coming month and more. Stewart’s considerable promise has been the subject of comment for the last couple of seasons, but a solid performance right now is what the head coach needs, not just the prospect of one a few years down the line.
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Backs to the future
And then there are the backs. They were better last Saturday than they had been the week before, but still lacked the sparkle they have when they are on top of their game. Given the pack is unlikely to bully Benetton or indeed subsequent, tougher opponents, those backs need to regain that sparkle quickly. If not, that two-point lead in Conference A will soon be gone, and the current eight-point advantage over fourth-placed Ospreys will shrink to a worryingly small margin.
No pressure, then, for the players who are about to board the plane to Italy. So how will they respond? According to Tim Swinson, they will approach the Benetton game as they would have done no matter how the double-header against Edinburgh had gone.
“I don’t think that’s giving them enough credit, that just because we have lost a couple it is a bigger game,” the Warriors lock said. “They are a quality side as you’ve seen from watching them and the results they have had over the last 18 months.
“The way they’ve played, they deserve to be respected as a team themselves, never mind whether we have won some or lost some leading into it. We know it will be a tough game, and when you’ve lost a game you always want to bounce back with a win.
“They’re well organised with a good quality forward pack, so it will be a very good test ahead of two games in Europe against two more strong forward packs. It’s coming thick and fast for us at the moment, but that’s what professional rugby is, and we’re playing in two of the best competitions in the world at the moment in the PRO14 and the Champions Cup. We wouldn’t expect anything else.”
Ripping up the form book
At 31, Swinson has been around long enough to know that form can change quickly, at times inexplicably. “You get patches where you can’t do anything right and then magically the next week you can do everything right and you don’t know what the worry was all about, but that’s rugby,” he added.
Ryan Wilson made the same point after the Edinburgh match, pointing out that previous upsets against their Scottish rivals have not knocked the Warriors off their stride more than temporarily. “It takes one game, just one game,” the team’s co-captain said. “We go up to Treviso and play well, then this can all be forgotten about pretty quick. I think someone mentioned out there on the pitch that we lost the 1872 Cup the year we won the league.” (Glasgow did indeed lose the trophy in 2014-15, although only by a two-point aggregate: having beaten Edinburgh 16-6 at Scotstoun, they lost the Murrayfield return 20-8.)
“It’s a long old season,” Wilson added. “You’ve just got to keep plugging away at it.”
It is indeed, and no team can remain on top form throughout the campaign. But by the same token, sides that lose their sense of direction for too long can find it hard to get back on track, which is why the Benetton game may just become a pivotal point of Glasgow’s season.