This week Sean Kennedy (no not that one) looks ahead to the PRO12 playoffs and tells us why Warriors fans should dare to be optimistic
Glasgow Warriors had a bit of a rocky start to this season in the PRO12 thanks, in part, to losing twenty-six players to Vern Cotter during the Rugby World Cup and the loss of key players over summer. Thankfully they have firmly put those struggles behind them and are beginning to regain some of the form that made them the most feared team in the PRO12 last season.
With just a couple of games left in the regular season here are my ‘Reasons To Believe’:
[small_title title=”INVINCIBLE DURING THE 6 NATIONS”]
Throughout the 6 Nations window Glasgow didn’t lose a single game and have now won eight games back to back. This fact, and the confidence it represents, will contribute greatly to their momentum in the coming weeks. It truly shows the depth that Gregor Townsend has in his squad that, despite missing so many players of international talent, they were still able to grind out win after win.
Full credit has to go to those experienced squad member who stood up. Guys like sevens specialist Lee Jones, who is showing great form largely thanks to getting more game time, and Italian international Simone Favaro (already a fan favourite), to name just a couple.
[small_title title=”NEW FACES AND NEW TALENT”]
It’s not just the experienced guys who’ve had to rise to the challenge. As mentioned, the Warriors have had to dig deep into their squad through the year thanks to the Rugby World Cup and 6 Nations. This has meant that some of the fringe player who weren’t getting much, or even any, game time in the 1st XV before are coming to the fore and really showing their stuff.
Players like Zander Fagerson, Glen Bryce, Sila Puafisi, Scott Cummings and Junior Bulamaku have gone from relative unknowns to challenging the big boys for their places. The same thing happened during the 2011 Rugby World Cup and gave us some of the stars of today like a certain Stuart Hogg.
[small_title title=”THE RETURN OF THE KINGS”]
While the team played well without them, it’s impossible to deny that with the internationals back from Scotland the Glasgow team are really capable of soaring high again. Most of them are looking on form following Scotland’s pretty successful 6 Nations and guys like 6 Nations Player of the Tournament Stuart Hogg are really adding an extra edge to the attack.
Add to that the fact that Finn Russell had an incredible game against the Scarlets, showing himself to be the show-stopping playmaker we all know that he can be with that gorgeous little chip in behind for his first try, and the future is looking bright.
Credit PRO12 and Sky Sports
[small_title title=”AN EMPTY PHYSIO BENCH”]
Glasgow have sometimes been quite unlucky with injuries towards the second half of the season. It was only this time last year that we were wondering if DTH Van Der Merwe would be fit enough to play in the semi-finals. This year we seem to have gotten through the worst of it relatively unscathed, although at one point we had three scrum-halves all injured at the same time.
Thankfully, bar Mike Blair retiring, most of the injured players like Pat MacArthur, Alex Dunbar and Henry Pyrgos have returned. When you have players of that calibre fighting to get into the time it makes everyone play harder on the field. Competition is healthy after all.
[small_title title=”A DEFENCE TO BE RECKONED WITH”]
Glasgow are often praised for their brand of high tempo attacking rugby, but no matter how much flair you can’t expect to win games unless you provide a strong defence to back it up. You need only look at the last game against the Scarlets to see how the warriors threw their bodies on the line in defence. Even a very dangerous looking Liam Williams couldn’t help the Scarlets break through more than once.
There were several occasions in the past few games when teams have broken into the Glasgow’s 22, only to be shunted back by the defence and either turned over, or penalised due to the fierce competitive nature of the Warrior’s players at the breakdown.
[small_title title=”IN RARE FORM”]
It seems the Warriors really did save some of the best for last this season. With the PRO12 being criticised this season with some poor turnouts and dire performances, Glasgow are definitely bucking any trend. Players like Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Tommy Seymour, Henry Pyrgos and Jonny Gray are all peaking at the right time and are showing that Glasgow are still a force to be reckoned with.
Where early trendsetters like the Scarlets and Connacht are having wobbles, all the signs are that Glasgow are showing that champion quality of peaking at the right time.
[small_title title=”SO WHAT ARE THEIR CHANCES?”]
It really will be a close call towards the end of the season. Connacht are still in the top 2 and Leinster, whilst not exactly setting the heather alight with their attack, are topping the table and seemingly also peaking at the right time.
No team has ever won an away Semi-Final in the history of the PRO12. So it’s understandable that Glasgow are keen to ensure that they leapfrog at least one of those teams and finish in the top 2. They have a couple of games remaining, one against Zebre at home and one against Connacht in Galway. Glasgow need to win both of these, ideally with bonus points, in order to guarantee playing at Scotstoun. If not they’ll have to make history and become the first team ever to win an away Semi-Final.
You wouldn’t bet your house on it, but for the reasons listed above I’m taking a risk and booking my ticket to the Final now.
What do you think? Can they do it?