After two semi-final losses, fit-again Fusaro is fired up, finds Iain Morrison
EVERYONE has their own pre-match rituals. Some players like to take a shower, while others have little superstitions about “lucky” underpants, perhaps putting the right sock on before the left one or vice versa. Some cross themselves and offer up a silent prayer while others don the headphones and let the thrash metal negate the need for thought.
Glasgow flanker Chris Fusaro has his own preparation. He is sick. He vomits. Sometimes profusely. In the shed before the match and even on the pitch during it. He doesn’t much like it but there is little he can do about it. It’s just his thing and it has been for a long time.
“I’ve been doing it since primary four,” he admits. “My mum encourages me to see a hypnotist because it can’t be good for me. It’s just one of these things, the way I prepare for a game.”
It doesn’t seem to have harmed his career any. In the absence of Al Kellock, Glasgow were captained by Fusaro in the pre-season match against Harlequins and he is one option as successor when age finally overtakes the long-serving lock. With long-time rival John Barclay off to Llanelli, this looks like an important year for Fusaro, who should get a run in the Glasgow No.7 jersey provided he sidesteps injury – something that proved beyond him last season.
He damaged his groin in the December inter-city derby and it turned out to be one of those frustrating injuries that was always a week away from healing.
Yet Fusaro made it into Scott Johnson’s inaugural Six Nations squad. That, however, was as close as he got to a cap. In fact, he didn’t play again all season. He aggravated the injury in training with Scotland and only a specialist in Leicester was finally able to get him sorted. Two weeks after the operation he was running again which, presumably, he could have been two weeks after the original December injury. But Fusaro, if not a naturally phlegmatic character, has become a tad more philosophical since sitting on the sidelines for six months.
“Hindsight is a great thing!” says the flanker. “Could I have been back two weeks after the injury? I don’t know. I presume so. It was very disappointing, especially after two seasons ago when I played a lot. It was my first exposure to the professional environment. I loved it so it was all the harder to take getting injured the next season. ‘Why is this happening to me?’
“It was very, very frustrating and there were a couple of times. . .” He leaves the sentence unfinished. “It was tough, tough to deal with but we have a very good medical team and they helped me through it and all the boys support you, too.”
For years, Fusaro played understudy to Barclay but, two seasons ago, the younger man actually managed ten times more starts for Glasgow than the veteran did. Last season Barclay rediscovered his best form but, after moving to west Wales, he will now be facing his old club in Scarlet colours and Fusaro is the man in the driving seat – a phrase he reacts to with undisguised horror.
“I never want to say I’m in the driving seat. There is always someone there who you are trying to get the shirt from or who is trying to get the shirt from you. Tyrone Holmes is here and Will Bordill, the young guy from Sale, and they are very good players so there are still going to be a lot of challenges for the starting jersey.”
It’s a big year for the flanker and his club. With Glasgow falling at the semi-final stage of the RaboDirect in the last two years, there is a real determination to go one better this time out. As for Glasgow’s undistinguished Heineken Cup record, that could change because, while European champions Toulon are the favourites to top their group, neither of the Warriors’ other opponents, Cardiff and Exeter, are overly imposing – especially if Glasgow can find the form with which they finished last season.
The team probably didn’t get the credit they deserved for their end-of-season, all singing, all dancing onslaught on the RaboDirect. In February, Gregor Townsend’s side stuck eight tries past the Dragons who had been their bogey team. At the end of March, the Warriors put six tries past Munster. In the middle of April they stuck five past an Ospreys side that boasted the best defence in the league – even after that embarrassment – and whose pack supplied four caps for the Lions in Australia.
Leinster have been the form team in Europe these last few years and, although the match was played in their own backyard, they only scraped past Glasgow in the semi-final by the narrowest of margins.
Glasgow have been the good news story in Scottish rugby for too long but there is a paradox at the heart of their success.
In Townsend’s first season as boss, their try count almost doubled to 66, the highest tally in the table, but the coach has always insisted that defence is the key to success and one of his key players agrees.
“It is a bit of cliché,” says Fusaro, “but I think that defence does win games. Gregor is a different coach who has brought a different philosophy from Sean [Lineen]. We do a lot of work on our skills. From the props all the way through the squad, everyone’s got really good handling skills because he really nails that throughout pre-season.
“In defence we had a really strong foundation and [defence coach] Matt Taylor has really taken that forward again. Defence does win games but that allows us to have an offensive defence, winning turnovers and there is a lot of potency in the backs with the likes of Pete Horne. I know he’s my mate but he did have a great season last year, and Sean Maitland, who finishes. And I forgot to mention Niko [Matawalu]. I don’t know how many tries he contributed to, he was phenomenal last year – no one could handle him.
“We also have a massive emphasis on fitness in pre-season and the brand of rugby we want to play is the quickest in Europe. That’s the goal. Keep the tempo high in attack and in defence. If you have quick line speed teams can’t handle the massive pressure.
The All Blacks aggressive style of defence was discussed and Fusaro adds: “They are very clinical when they get to the twenty-two so that’s something we look for as well, red zone conversion. When we are on the opposition red zone we must always come away with points.”
Players sometimes obfuscate their goals for the season, unwilling to be hostages to fortune down the line, but Fusaro is refreshingly ambitious. He says: “This season is to qualify for Heineken Cup from the pool stages. Obviously, Edinburgh did it two seasons ago and that was great and we want to match it. We need to keep our consistency in the RaboDirect and we want to win it. We want to be the first Scottish club to win some silverware, that’s the goal.”
At odds of 6/1 against for the title, Glasgow might just be worth a five pound flutter.