FOR opposition teams, seeing the Glasgow Warrior maul forming is a bit like watching an abandoned shopping trolley start to trundle down a hill; you know what’s going to happen next but stopping it is another matter.
It is a play that has yielded extended success for Franco Smith’s men and in particular for hooker Johnny Matthews who has made a virtue of fixing himself onto the back and then plopping to the turf once the maul has been driven over the line by the prowess of his team-mates.
Imagine George Turner’s surprise – and no doubt disappointment – when he returned to the Glasgow line-up last weekend at No 2 for the first time since the World Cup, expecting to be the chief beneficiary of that unstoppable maul machine, only for Warriors to switch to Plan B to better Benetton, running in four open-field tries through the backs to land the bonus-point victory.
It demonstrated that this squad is far from a one-trick pony when it comes to ways of outfoxing the opposition, with perhaps the forwards’ reputation giving the backs more space to exploit in the wider areas.
Josh McKay, Kyle Rowe, Sebastian Cancelliere and George Horne all took advantage as Warriors chalked up another home win, and it left Turner with a wry smile on his face as he reflected on his first club action of the campaign.
“Yeah, I had a feeling that was going to happen,” smiled the Scotland hooker. “Johnny’s been getting tries aplenty from the maul and I come back in and the maul just doesn’t work!
“Benetton probably played it quite smart. They didn’t give us many penalties or opportunities to maul down at their end but maybe they focused too heavily on that maul defence and left gaps out wide.
“It was a bit scrappy but we played well and managed to get those tries with some Seba [Cancelliere] magic. He managed to get through a few gaps and create some stuff, it was good.”
Given Smith’s reputation for persistently pursuing perfection, it was no surprise to learn that repetition has been key to the maul drive’s success.
“To be honest, and Johnny would probably say this as well, we [the hookers] don’t do much,” added Turner. “We sit at the back and hold on while everyone else does the pushing.
“Franco gets us to do a lot of mauls [in training]. Everyone does a lot of mauls but we do a lot every week and everyone goes through detail.
“We mix it up with other plays if it’s not working. We do a lot of work on it on the pitch and if it feels the opposition is slowing us down we’ll still try to break them. It’s a good weapon.”
Turner’s previous match before last weekend had been the disappointing loss to Ireland that sent Scotland spiralling out of the World Cup at the pool stage.
The former Edinburgh man, however, believes the gap between Scottish rugby and their Irish counterparts is narrowing, with the visit of Ulster to Scotstoun on Saturday night the next chance to prove that theory after an early season win over Leinster.
“It’s tight at the top at the moment and we’ve got another massive game against Ulster,” added Turner. “If we can get five points and deny them getting a point it’ll be a big event in the league.
“We’re definitely getting there [in terms of getting closer to Ireland]. Beating Leinster was a really good win, a good scoreline as well. People say it was a weakened Leinster because they didn’t have their internationals but they pride themselves on their depth.
“Now we have Ulster who are a class team and another good test for us. We’re joint top at the moment, although Franco’s not happy that we dropped a few points at Connacht away.
“And I think that’s the message so far: we’re doing really well but there’s a lot to improve, a lot to shore up. We can still have better performances.”