JONNY BELL reckons that Ulster will be ‘licking their lips’ in anticipation at the thought of taking on a Glasgow Warriors team stripped of 11 internationalists on Monday night, but believes that the youngsters in the away team – which he is now attack coach for – will head to Belfast feeling they have ‘nothing to fear’.
Warriors will be boosted by the availability of second-row Rob Harley and winger Ratu Tagive who have been released from Scotland’s training squad for the remainder of this Autumn Test series. Richie Gray is in the same boat and could also be involved if he shakes-off the concussion which kept him out of action last weekend. But Huw Jones, Sam Johnson, Nick Grigg, George Horne and George Turner, who have been available for club duty during the last fortnight, have all been retained by national team head coach Gregor Townsend on this occasion.
Scotland front-liners Ali Price, Matt Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Zander Fagerson, Fraser Brown and Oli Kebble will also be missing as the national team focusses in on next weekend’s Nations Cup opener away to Italy.
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Club co-captain Ryan Wilson’s involvement against Ulster is also not nailed on at this point. “He took a bang to his elbow, he was getting clarity on that today so we will wait and see how he progresses throughout the lead-up to Monday night – there is nothing nailed on there yet,” said Bell.
Ulster only have five players in Ireland’s squad – stand-off Billy Burns, centre Stuart McCloskey, wing/full-back Jacob Stockdale, hooker Rob Herring and lock Iain Henderson – and are four from four in the PRO14 so far this season, so an almighty challenge lies ahead for Warriors.
“It is challenging for everybody but exciting at the same time,” continued Bell. “It is certainly a massive opportunity for the younger players who usually have to sit on the bench or don’t get too many opportunities. It’s a great chance for them to get a concerted period of game time and I am excited about that.
“I’ve come in and watched some of these young guys and trained them against the international players, and the likes Ollie Smith, Paddy Kelly, Robbie Nairn and Robbie Fergusson, who has just come in from Scotland 7s, have been really impressive. Mistakes are going to happen but they are going to get better and better, and I genuinely do have confidence in them.
“We’ve just to keep working hard and be a bit more accurate and take more of our chances,” he added. “The difference against Leinster [last weekend] was they took four of theirs and scored four tries. We had more opportunities but only came away with three tries. My job is to keep challenging the guys to get better in their skill levels.”
Bell might be the newest face on the Warriors coaching panel – having joined the club from Gloucester over the summer – but he has a fair idea of what the team are heading into having played for and initially cut his coaching teeth with his home-town province.
“I’ve not been home in quite a while, but we will be going in a bubble and restricted in what we can do, so unfortunately there will be no reacquainting with family,” he explained.
“Ravenshill, Kingspan, whatever you want to call it, is an absolutely unbelievably brilliant stadium, and they are an unbelievably well supported club, and a full capacity stadium is what every player wants to play in – so it will be weird going back and hearing echoes around the place,” he added. “Playing rugby in empty stadiums is just not the way it is meant to be – but that is the way it has to be at the moment so everyone is trying to make the best of it.
“We’re going out to win every game but unfortunately that doesn’t happen all the time, so we are going to show confidence in this group and show that we believe in them as they go to Belfast to take on a very, very good side who probably don’t lose as many players [to the international window].
“Ulster are probably going to be licking their lips a little bit and getting excited about playing us, but do you know what? Our young lads have got no fear. We’ve got the likes of young Hamish Bain who has come in this season and played his first two games of pro rugby and managed virtually 80 minutes both times – and he’s just going to get better, all these guys are going to get better.”Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 36)
Bell refused to be drawn on what is a realistic target for Glasgow this season, but rejected the suggestion that the pressure is off because of a lack of expectation on the callow squad.
“Their pressure is that we are not going out with a mindset that ‘if we don’t win, we don’t win’ – that is not at all what we are talking about,” he stressed. “If we put massive pressure on these guys to win every game they are just going to fold up, seize up – so we can’t take that attitude as coaches – but there is pressure, massive pressure, because we have to win [some] games. There is no two ways about it. Players have to go out there and deliver the best version of themselves.
“The internationals will come back in and add a big impetus, hopefully on the back of a successful international campaign, and then we will go into Europe again. The next couple of weeks we are playing some quality opposition in the PRO14 but hopefully we can start getting ourselves back up. It won’t be easy but we have to keep nipping away at it to build into Europe and the rest of the league.”