URC semi-final: Munster v Glasgow: Franco Smith says Warriors will continue to trust the process

"The only way we can win this is by not being influenced by them verbally and to get the niggle out of the game as quick as possible."

Franco Smith says Glasgow Warriors must approach their URC play-off semi-final clash against Munster with the same mindset as they do every other game. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Franco Smith says Glasgow Warriors must approach their URC play-off semi-final clash against Munster with the same mindset as they do every other game. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

FRANCO SMITH didn’t miss a trick when given the opportunity to promote the URC during his team announcement press call earlier today [Friday]. The South African head coach of Glasgow Warriors knows what side his bread is buttered on, and although he generally approaches media duties with all the relish of Rishi Sunak attending a D-Day parade, he had clearly read the league’s marketing playbook when asked to reflect on how tight the title race has been this season.

“The URC must be proud of this product,” he said.  “There was three points separating the top four teams on the log, we had the same amount of wins, scored more or less the same amount of points, and bonus points as well. The brand that all four teams are playing is excellent.

“I think that is what this competition is about – having a good product on the field every week which can be well followed by a rugby mad public,” he added. “Everybody has contributed during the season to making this a very tight and difficult last eight, and now the top four teams as per the table have got through to the semi-finals, so I think in general the competition structure and all the hard work that’s been put in to allow these teams to be their best has now created a very good finish to the competition. I think it is remarkable that we are all so tightly knitted together at the top end.”


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Smith was less forthcoming when fielding inevitable questions about the magnitude of the occasion and the ferocity of the rivalry, ahead of everything being on the line when his Glasgow Warriors side take on Munster in tomorrow [Saturday] evening’s URC play-off semi-final showdown at Thomond Park.

“Continuity is important at this part of the season,” he dead-panned, when asked about selection. “Every game is a different challenge and must be played on its own merits,” he straight-batted, when asked about the big occasion. “Our boys have stepped up consistently over the season when I’ve asked them,” he stonewalled, when asked about his team needing to raise their game beyond the impressive levels they showed in last weekend’s quarter-final victory over the Stormers.

Smith is unapologetically a process-driven coach, and he clearly believes that pre-match hype is something he – and more importantly his team can do without. Even when he did eventually warm-up, he was on high-alert against the danger of giving away a soundbite which could be described by the fourth estate as ‘a rallying call’, ‘a battle cry’ or ‘a declaration of intent’.

“It was important that we got the monkey off our back last week. Last year we let it slip away in the quarter-finals, so we wanted to get the job done this time. It was important to tick that box because it has helped us this week in our preparations. It was more than just a victory over the Stormers. It was also a victory over ourselves. We built good experience and we’ll need that again this week,” he said, laying out the theme he determinedly stuck to throughout the remainder of the briefing  –  that this game is not about the occasion or the opposition, but an extension of all that has gone before for Glasgow in that they are focussed on their own performance and if they “stick to the process” then they’ll get what they deserve from the match.

“No, we haven’t spoken about last year’s game [when Warriors lost 5-14 at home to Munster at the quarter-final stage of the URC], there’s no need to talk about something that went wrong,” he insisted. “We learned the lessons straight after that game last year and applied them from day one at the start of this season.  There’s no need to remind the guys. They know exactly what happened last year and what went wrong. They don’t need any extra motivation. We are focused on what we need to do to win this game, not about what happened in the past. It’s not relevant.

 

 

Of course, Munster and Glasgow do have history. So much so that even the Irish press – who usually break out in a cold sweat at any suggestion their heroic lads belong on the same lowly pedestal as their Scottish opponents – have described the rivalry in hyperbolic terms this week.

It probably started back in March 2013, when Warriors put 51 points on Munster in the league at Scotstoun. Standing at the back of the main stand that night watching the home players signing autographs on the running track, there was a dawning realisation that this is what watching pro rugby must routinely feel like in Ireland and elsewhere. It was a coming of age moment for Glasgow, and an embarrassment for Munster – who were two time European Cup winners and had only recently relinquished their top-dog in Ireland status to Leinster – about which you rather suspect they still hold a grudge.

Two years later, Warriors’ arrival as a major force in the PRO12 (as the league was then known) was confirmed when they defeated Munster – who else? – on an electrifying night in Belfast to claim the title for the first and so far only time.

And two seasons after that, the two sides were drawn in the same European pool meaning four matches over the course of the season, including the first after the totemic Anthony Foley‘s sudden and far-too-early death in a Parisian hotel from a pulmonary edema. Inside an emotionally charged Thomond Park, Munster blew Glasgow away, despite an 18th minute red-carding for Keith Earls. and as Fraser Brown recently said: “They could have played anyone that day and would have won.”

Brown was actually the victim of the tip-tackle which led to Earls’ dismissal, and the home winger as well as his captain Peter O’Mahony protested vigorously that the Glasgow hooker had turned himself in the air to make it a sending-off offence. Earls’ dramatics as he left the pitch served to stir up the home support to an even greater level of fervour, and his claims afterwards that Brown had “milked it” further fed the growing sense of enmity between the two sides.

A few months later, in January 2017, Munster and Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray accused Glasgow of dangerously targeting his standing leg as he kicked the ball, and the sense that these two teams really don’t like each other grew some more.

More recently, Warriors played some exquisite rugby in the first half on the way to only their fourth win at Thomond Park last March, but that defeat proved the catalyst to a sensational run through to the end of the season for Munster, who won four of their remaining five URC matchers –  including a 5-14 victory over Warriors at Scotstoun in the quarter-finals when Warriors stand-0ff Tom Jordan was sent off midway through the first half for a high tackle – and drew the other one away in South Africa, on their way to claiming the URC title.

Munster were 40-29 winners in Cork when the two sides met during the regular part of this URC season.

 

 

“The focus hasn’t been so much on Munster,” insisted Smith. “We’ve looked more at what we can bring to this game and what we can do to win. We want to be the best we can be and play as close as possible to the DNA of this club. We’ll need that to have any chance this weekend.”

But surely it is impossible to approach a game like this with exactly the same mentality as you would a regular league game at home to Zebre?

“To have cool heads on the field we must have points of reference, which allow you to not think about the occasion and the outcome and the amount of people in the stand, the hype in the media and the importance of the game. I’ve learned that through Test-match rugby,” retorted Smith.

“And therefore, we trained to play and to be in this situation from the first day. Our points of reference should be what we’ve done in pre-season, how we’ve approached this season, how we learned from our losses but how we grew from our wins …  what was necessary during the week.

“The process is important to ensure that you are mentally well prepared and well driven. You can only change something if you have something to change, and that’s what it’s about here.”

All well and good, however that’s not going to be the way Munster look at this game because they are a side who thrive on the energy generated by the crowd and within their own group.

Smith accepts this but reasons that ‘sticking to the process’ does not mean backing away from the confrontational side of the game.

“They regularly play in play-off games –  when is the last time you can remember that they didn’t finish in the top eight? –  they are traditionally a very, very good team and traditionally they have their own points of reference,” he said. “They have players who have been involved through the years such as Peter O’Mahony. They set the standard and they demand quality of the players, so if we’re going to try and keep them at bay, we will be wrong because that will be a defensive mindset. We should go out there and go and be us.

“It’s the second year that this group has been together. If you include the rounds of 16 [in Europe], we’ve played in a lot of play-off games already for a young group that is still on its way somewhere. So if we’re only going to try and measure ourselves against what Munster bring, we’ll fall short. It’s more about how good can we be? And how much will we have to ask the questions to them instead of just having answers for them.”

“They [Munster] have their own individual motivations because they already know what it is about. We are going to be distracted from the outcome if we are focussed on the niggling and the off-the-ball stuff which we can’t control. The only way we can win this is by outplaying Munster both sides of the ball, and that means not being influenced by them verbally and to get the niggle out of the game as quick as possible so that we can play the game the way which gives us the best chance [of winning].

“Individual scuffles and individual rivalries are not going to do anybody any good, specifically not in the process that we try to follow.”

He added: “I don’t want to come here on Monday and say ‘sorry’, and use as an excuse the fact that we were outnumbered in the pavilion. That should not affect what the game is about.

“It’s not something that’s going to come overnight. We have learned to play in front of hostile crowds without any of our own support but if we want to be the best in this competition we have to bridge that and hopefully, with the planning we’ve had, we can go and apply ourselves and not be intimidated by the surrounding and/or the crowd and things that we cannot control.”


URC play-off semi-final: Munster v Glasgow: same again for Warriors

About David Barnes 4028 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.

6 Comments

  1. As ever v Munster it’s less about the team performance and more about the ref being brave enough to stand up to Munster’s cynical cheating. Offside and infringing at contact area are their MO and they often get away with it. Good reasons their fans were delighted to see the back of Owens. Possibly the only NHS side as easy to dislike as SA.

    • Well ref and officials were predictably allowing Munster to start 3 yards offside at every contact area,POM as usual despite multiple warnings got away Scot free with despicable behaviour n every opportunity to penalise Glasgow was taken….but despite that coach n players found a way to win. That’s up there with anything any pro Scottish side has achieved. Would be harsh to pick individuals out but Horne was effectively 9 and 10 allowing Jordan to be a third centre, Jones and Sione just class, Zander was toiling early in scrum but just got right on it and destroyed their sub. Bhatti unheralded hero. Love Ritchie showing some aggression and Darge was seriously class. McKay n Cancielliere just classy. Interesting that the thinking was their subs would be bomb squad but opposite was true. Hats off to coach n squad. Rare to see Scottish side showing the better mental fortitude especially against appalling officials.

    • their fans loved Owens. And Owens loved them, doing paid for after dinner speeches between reffing games in Ireland

  2. Good luck to them. I really hope they do it. My head thinks this is a challenge too far. Partly because the football last night has put me in a funk. Stupid roundball game. I hope Glasgow give it a right good go and if the better team wins, so be it. Whatever the outcome, I think it has been a season of progress for the Warriors.

  3. Parity (at least) in the scrum (at least)
    Win all line outs
    Keep 15 on the pitch.
    Get on right side of eeferee4
    Well there some thoughts from Professor
    Obvious.
    However Get the basics nailed and Glasgow have the personnel to win this game.
    Get the basics right

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