There’s no doubt that Sean Lineen, coach of the Glasgow Warriors, would have been delighted by the outcome of the first Heineken Cup Pool game last weekend. A home win is almost essential to further progress in the competition, but this is particularly true when your December back-to-back games are against a team who finished runners-up in the prestigious Top 14 competition in France less than 6 months ago.
However, the Mole believes that Sean probably has had a few sleepless nights this week as he tries to finalise his selection for this weekend’s game against European Champions Leinster on Sunday. His problems? Well almost under the radar, his front row last weekend did not include such stalwarts as Jon Welsh, Moray Low or even Dougie Hall (although he surfaced off the bench after 56 mins). Jonny Beattie – another Scottish international – did not figure in the back-row, although there are rumoured to be injury doubts in this instance.
Argentinean Federico Aramburu joined the fray on 63 minutes in place of former Ulster starlet Tommy Seymour but the real surprise was the appearance of 19 year-old Simon Hogg at full-back, from where he scored the try that kept Glasgow in the game against the flow, midway through the second half. Hogg did not even figure in the September published list of Glasgow’s PRO12 Squad. What a discovery!
12 months ago, Ruaridh Jackson appeared to be a star in the making in the No 10 role, following the departure of Dan Parks to Cardiff, but 20 year-old chunky Duncan Weir has taken his chances since September and now appears to be the nailed-on selection, who inspires the Warriors with his enormous kicks and confident running approach.
The Glasgow boys have been on a great roll since taking Leinster’s 28-month home record at the end of September. Six straight wins in Pro12 and Heineken is a super reversal of last year’s dismal league performance (11th place of 12). However, integrating returning RWC Scottish stars is not simple when you are going well, and Lineen must work this out as well as the tactics that he intends using against Leinster.
Whatever he decides, Leinster will not have an easy day on Sunday, and any Leinster supporter who thinks that this is a potential bonus point victory to be enjoyed from the Sunday lunch menu should think again. The Mole is a huge fan of the Glasgow 2nd row – both of them. Last year’s league performance owed a lot to the initial absence of captain Alastair Kellock and the injury of Chris Cussiter.
Lineen acquired the services of such as prop Michael Cusack (Doncaster), Troy Nathan (Connacht), Tommy Seymour (Ulster) during the summer and has integrated young players such as back-rows Ryan Wilson (22), Rob Harley (21) and Pat McArthur (hooker and aged 24) into a very competitive and big team.
Size clearly matters in this Coach’s eyes. Just have a look at some of these numbers:
Props: Welsh (6’1’’ & 125Kg): Low (6’2’’ & 125Kg); Cusack (5’10’’ & 129Kg)
Second Rows: Grey (6’10’’ & 130Kg); Kellock (6’8’’ & 119Kg); Ryder (6’5’’ & 115Kg)
Back-row: Beattie (6’4’’ & 106Kg); Wilson (6’4’’ & 103 Kg); Harley (6’5’’ & 111Kg)
Certainly, Glasgow can field a pack as big as any in this Heineken Cup, never mind the Pro12!
However, to break into the top tier of Pro12 teams, what Glasgow lacks at the moment is a mid-field threat. A big pack, good half-backs and a decent back three are excellent weapons to ensure that you are hard to beat, but Leinster, if they can mop up Weir’s monster kicks and counter-attack in a manner that ensures pace and continuity in the game, should be able to spread this Glasgow defence across the park sufficiently to locate mismatches for their talented runners.
If this occurs early in the game, Glasgow’s main weapons are blunted and they may have to play a game to which they are unaccustomed. But Leinster must play this game like they finished last week – not like they started. Taking this Glasgow pack on head-to-head will play into the Glasgow strategy. Leinster must maintain possession and put pace and continuity into this game. If Jon Sexton gets penalty opportunities take them by all means. But from mid-field in, keep possession, use a wide kicking game, if necessary, but above all keep possession and be patient. Get 10 points ahead and this game could finish well. Make a scrap of it and it could be a long afternoon.
The Mole awaits Smokin Joe’s latest selection. How many weeks will he wait to develop a mid-field pairing with venom?