“Glasgow 100% back on track.”
That tweet from former Scotland and Glasgow Warriors back-row John Barclay spoke to a sense among the Warriors support that, after the dog days towards the end of the Danny Wilson reign, the club is finally back on an upward trajectory.
Sunday’s victory over defending URC champions Stormers at Scotstoun was special. Flair and fight. Silk and steel. Electric attack and belligerent defence. Call it what you will, it was a performance to stir the soul of Glasgow supporters.
“The crowd were more energized than they have been over the last couple of years,” says former Glasgow half-back Colin Gregor.
“The style of rugby that Franco Smith wants to play is the style of rugby that most of the Glasgow Warriors players want to play. It’s what the crowd are keen on.
“He’s not just saying we want to play an expansive, attractive style of rugby – he’s actually putting some detail to it as well and he’s drilling that into the players.
“The manner in which they are playing, the style of rugby and the fact that they are on a winning streak as well all adds up to suggesting that Glasgow are back, or at least on the way back to where they should be.”
Glasgow depths the difference
Warriors are on a run of six victories on the bounce, and while Smith has made sweeping changes to his side for Saturday’s Challenge Cup meeting with Perpignan in France, he has already done so to great effect this season.
A so-called second string Glasgow side got their European campaign off to the best possible start with a fine win away to English Premiership side Bath.
“He has rotated the squad and he has given everyone opportunities – and, if you take your opportunities, you do stay in the squad,” says Gregor, the former Scotland Sevens captain.
“The likes of George Horne, he’s taken his chance and done really well. Stafford McDowall in the center by all accounts was leaving Glasgow in the summer and he pleaded to stay and he’s justifying that and is captain at the weekend.
“There’s a few guys that haven’t had much game time, there’s a few experienced heads, there’s a few coming back from injury, so you’d hope that is a good blend of people.
“It’s still mid-season and they’ve not actually achieved anything, but I think you would rather be in the west of the country than the east the way things are shaping up.”
Edinburgh need to get momentum
Over in the east, it has been a tricky period for Edinburgh and things very nearly hit a new low as they were taken to the wire by the URC bottom dogs Zebre – 11 defeat from 11 ahead of the match – before a late rally sealed the win.
It was surprising then to hear head coach Mike Blair describe the victory over the Italians as “our best win of the season”.
“If you take the 80-minute performance, then it definitely wasn’t their best win of the season, but the character they had to show to get the win was probably quite heartening for Mike, especially because they have had this wobble,” explains Gregor.
“There were plenty of recent experiences where they would have been in that position and not won it. You have to beat Zebre – it’s a non-negotiable and Edinburgh almost did their best to not to.
“The manner in which they did dig it out was impressive. I guess the challenge now is you have to back that up this week and going across to France it’s not going to be easy to back it up, but they need to start getting a bit of momentum.”
A trip to face Castres is not the easiest assignment in which to generate that momentum, but having beaten the French side in the reverse fixture in December, Edinburgh know a repeat will almost certainly ensure progression to the knockout stages of the Champions Cup.
“French teams pride themselves on their home performances, so it’s going to be a huge challenge for Edinburgh,” says Gregor.
“When you look at their pack in particular, it is a strong pack, and when you go over to the likes of Castres, you need your forwards to be hopefully dominating or be on at least a par with their opponents.
“They have real quality, Grant Gilchrist and Jamie Ritchie as co-captains need to show their leadership but also get their hands on the ball and carry – and get big Bill Mata carrying, get Sam Skinner disrupting.
“Pierre Schoeman has probably had as much of a dip as he’s had since he joined Edinburgh and it’s another opportunity for him to show his quality ahead of the Six Nations and get back on the front foot.
“I think the French national team is far more consistent now, but at club level you get teams who don’t perform as you would expect them to and some that shoot the lights out.
“Edinburgh will hope that Castres have a bit of a wobble and they make the most of that.”