AS far as Tommy Seymour is concerned, the only surprise with how confidently Huw Jones has transitioned from centre to full-back since rugby returned from lockdown last month is that it is any surprise at all.
Jones registered another assured performance for Glasgow Warriors (carrying the ball for 120 metres, which was 24 metres more than any other player in the league, and also claiming a well-taken try) in Saturday’s narrow defeat away to Connacht, and team-mate Seymour (who also crossed the whitewash as Warriors pushed for the win late-on) has backed the 26-year-old to go from strength to strength in his new position.
“I think he’s been outstanding,” said the winger, despite this weekend’s frustrating start to the 2020-21 PRO14 season. “I, myself, thought Shuggy would make a great 15 and I said that to Danny, funnily enough. The natural ability he’s got, his speed on and off the ball, his ability to find space, his kicking game, I think he has fitted in there really, really well.
“He is really, really enthusiastic and wants to challenge himself to go on and fill that role. He’s grabbed it with both hands and from what we’ve seen in this game and against Edinburgh in those two outings as well, he certainly feels very natural there, and I certainly enjoy playing outside him.
“He is a great option for us, and there are also some really good young guys coming through [such as first year pro Rufus McLean and academy prospect Ollie Smith] who we will maybe see during the season and who I also think will do a great job for us, but Huw had been fantastic so far and I expect to see him continue on an upward trajectory. He’ll be brilliant for us all season, no doubt about it.”
With Jones now focussed on full-back, the No 13 jersey appears to be a shoot-out between Nick Grigg and Kyle Steyn (although Saturday’s inside centre Stafford McDowall can also slot in there if required). With Steyn currently out injured, Grigg is the man in possession – and, as Seymour points out, he is going to take some budging, both physically and figuratively.
“He’s put on a few pounds, hasn’t he? He’s a big boy!” said the winger. “He was hard enough to stop at the best of times last year, and he is certainly looking … sturdier, shall we say, in the 13 channel.
“Squigz is a great boy. He’s a ball of energy around the place and a fantastic team-mate to have. Our squad benefits from him every day – he’s a livewire who creates a lot of enthusiasm and energy. He’s a wonderful person to play alongside both on and off the pitch. I can’t give him enough praise. He’s a great guy.”
It was Grigg who got Warriors up and running on Saturday when he burst onto Adam Hastings’ delayed pass and bundled over the line to put his side ahead on the stroke of half-time, and he also ran an excellent outside line and timed his pass brilliantly to create the overlap for Seymour’s try near the end.
“People underrate him quite a lot,” said Seymour. “I’ve been on the receiving end of some of those ball-carrying hits at training and he can certainly make an impact. I’m glad I don’t have to face him in matches.”
The good news for Warriors head coach Danny Wilson is that competition for places in those positions at Scotland level is so intense that he has a pretty good chance of retaining both players during the upcoming extended Autumn Test window, although both could easily force their way into the international match-day squad.
He also knows for certain that he’ll have access to Seymour, who has retired from international rugby, but there will be a big exodus towards the end of the month ahead of Scotland’s first match against Georgia at Murrayfield on Friday 23rd October, which will serve as a useful warm-up for the team’s long-delayed final Six Nations clash against Wales the following Saturday.
From a Scotland perspective, the leadership and all-action form of hooker Fraser Brown against Connacht will be a big source of encouragement for head coach Gregor Townsend, while Matt Fagerson was also quietly effective at No 8.
So much for the good stuff, the bottom line is that Warriors came up short on Saturday in a game they could have won with better discipline and more composure at key moments – and having missed out on the play-offs last year, they are acutely aware of how costly episodes such as these early in the campaign can potentially become when you reach the business end of the season.
“We scored a decent amount of points for being away from home, but when your discipline is the way it was out there, it is always going to be hard to get a result,” lamented Seymour. “Fair play to Connacht, but we had that game in our grasp and we let it slip by us.
“Multiple times in that game we put ourselves in a position to go on and win,’ he added. “It is not about the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ – we didn’t do it – it’s as simple as that. Connacht won the game and we didn’t, and there are thing we need to correct for next week, so we’ll give it our full focus ahead of taking on Scarlets [next Sunday night at Scotstoun].”
“Some decision-making around certain areas maybe put a little bit more pressure on us that we didn’t need and gave Connacht a bit extra room. You look at the penalty-count, when we gave them away and where we gave them away, and the relief we gave them from pressure when we didn’t need to – we’ll be analysing all that. It is not an easy fix but it is something we can address quickly.”