URC Grand Final: Bulls v Glasgow: immortality beckons for Warriors

A win for Franco Smith's side will be the greatest achievement by a Scottish team since 1999

Skipper Kyle Steyn's family and friends could be the lion's share of the Glasgow Warriors support against Bulls in tomorrow's URC Grand Final. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Skipper Kyle Steyn's family and friends could be the lion's share of the Glasgow Warriors support against Bulls in tomorrow's URC Grand Final. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

SKIPPER Kyle Steyn revealed during his eve of match press conference that he has enlisted around 35 family and friends to make the (relatively) short trip from his hometown of Johannesburg to Pretoria to support Glasgow Warriors in tomorrow evening’s URC Grand Final showdown against the Bulls.

He suggested that the other ‘Jock-Boks’ in the squad – replacement props Nathan McBeth and Oli Kebble, replacement back-row Henco Venter and head coach Franco Smith – would also have some of their nearest and dearest there to get behind the away team, and Johnny Matthews‘ parents have apparently made the trip from Liverpool to see their boy in action.

Beyond that, the logistical and financial challenge of getting from the UK to South Africa with just a week’s notice means that the Glasgow support is going to infinitesimal within the context of a near 52,000 sell-out at Loftus Versfeld.


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But a lack of support in the stands is fairly low on the list of challenges Warriors must overcome. A disrupted week of travel, the altitude and the fact that they are facing a fresh Bulls team packed with power and panache – brimming with confidence after dumping Leinster out of the competition at the semi-final stage last weekend – are all far more significant factors contributing to the home team being comfortable favourites with the bookies (2/7 on), while anyone lumping a fiver on Warriors can expect to more than treble their money.

The loss of the vastly experienced full-back and game-manager Willie Le Roux to a concussion is a set-back for Jake White’s side, but that is offset against the return of live-wire Springbok wing Kurt-Lee Arendse following a facial fracture a fortnight ago.

Taking into account Warriors gruelling passage to this final following a disappointing end to the regular season, which has required a gritty home win against the Stormers two weekends ago and then a heroic away victory against Munster last Saturday, it is possible to claim without fear of contradiction that should Warriors come out on top then it will be the  greatest achievement by any Scottish side since the 1999 Five Nations triumph.

Furthermore, Glasgow recent form provides a basis for credibly claiming that they have a puncher’s chance of getting a result here. It will be hellishly tough, but every opponent drops their guard at some point during a prize fight, and with game-breakers across the backline, Warriors can absolutely deliver a counting blow if they are still in the contest when that opportunity comes.

The big question is whether Warriors can stay in the fight up front for long enough to seize whatever opportunities come their way when the game loosens up. Six Bulls players were recently named in the URC’s team of the season, including five out of eight forwards, which gives an indication of just how strong they are in the pack. Leinster couldn’t live with the home scrum last week despite a front-five of Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Joe McCarthy and James Ryan. In No 8 Cameron Hanekom the Bulls have one of the most exciting prospects on the planet.

 

 

Warriors’ fighting spirit was awe-inspiring against Munster last weekend. In the first half, they were in danger of being physically and mentally bullied out of the game, but their big players fronted up. Zander Fagerson and Richie Gray were immense, but the pivotal moment in the contest came just before half-time when Peter O’Mahony – who was dominating the game and the referee – was clobbered by the exceptional Matt Fagerson, who then jumped to his feet and stood over the old warhorse in a very deliberate exhibition of defiance.

It was marginally high (although O’Mahony was dipping slightly) and the Scotsman’s swinging arm did connect with is opponents face, so there was no real complaints about the yellow-card, but Warriors will take the view that being reduced to 14 men for the first 10 minutes of the second half was a price worth paying. A message had been sent and Munster didn’t really have an answer.

It may well take another moment on the edge this weekend for Warriors to go one better than last week. It will be a difficult balance to strike between forceful aggression and damaging indiscipline, and Warriors struggled to persuade Andrea Piardi that they were on the right side of the law during the first half last week. The fact that the Italian whistler is in charge again this week can only help them as they managed to turn the relationship around during the second half at Thomond and should have a better feel this week for what they can and cannot get away with.

“We know we need to make a step up in our discipline and the way that we started that game,” acknowledged Steyn. “It will be a whole new challenge this week. The Bulls have all the power to make us pay for mistakes like that. But you can’t control the referee or the decisions he makes. You can only control our actions and how we respond to them. So that’s where our focus is.

“I think it comes down to having a plan and having a process and making sure that you don’t let any of the external pressures influence that. I think the last two weeks have given us a lot of belief in that plan which gives us the confidence to back that plan again this week.”

As for Smith, the straight-talking coach wasn’t in the mood for beating around the bush. “I’m South African so I know how their hearts beat and I know how the blood goes through their veins and I know how they desperately want to succeed,” he said. “So we face another challenge. It’s comparable [to Munster] but we definitely see this as a different challenge and we must step up if we want to be competitive until the end.”

“I do feel regardless of the result this experience will mean a lot to the team and what they can experience in world rugby. I still feel that Loftus is the best place to play rugby. The ball travels a little further, the wind never blows and the temperature is always the same. The ground is always enthusiastic too. It’s definitely a proud moment and I’m pleased to share it with the boys who can take it on board for the rest of their careers.”


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About David Barnes 4026 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

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