Glasgow face tough test with Italian job

Tommy Seymour bagged a hat-trick againstTreviso last season but doesn't expect an easy ride in north Italy. Picture: Craig Watson/SNS
Tommy Seymour bagged a hat-trick againstTreviso last season but doesn't expect an easy ride in north Italy. Picture: Craig Watson/SNS
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GLASGOW WARRIORS will face two opponents when they line up this afternoon in Italy. The first challenge will come from Benetton Treviso, the club currently anchored to the bottom of the Guinness Pro12 ladder without a win.

The second obstacle that Glasgow must tackle is their own complacency. There is little doubt which of the two offers the bigger threat to the club’s unbeaten record so it must be just a little difficult for the players to get properly motivated for what should be a sure thing?

“No, definitely not”, argues the Glasgow winger Tommy Seymour in his hybrid Ulster/American accent. “I can understand when supporters see teams playing well and they are playing good rugby and getting results, when you are at the top of the table and you are playing the lower half [of the league] there is almost an expectation there of results. However if you look back at previous fixtures against Treviso, I think there was one three years ago when DTH (van der Merwe) came on and scored the winning try for us. We highlighted that this week, that was one of the most physical games we had that year. Treviso at home are a very proud team, they have a lot of proud individuals – once they click as a team, once they perform as a team, they will be very, very dangerous.

“We have to make sure we go out and not be complacent in the slightest and go out and go whole hog and 100 per cent to get a victory. You only have to look at Zebre’s result last week against Ulster (Zebre beat 14-man Ulster). I think Ulster played them a few weeks previously and comfortably won at Ravenhill. Italian teams do have, especially in their own back yard, the potential to turn over teams. Quite simply if we go out there with any complacency in our mindset at all there is the potential to get beaten so we have to make sure we play well.”

Ulster must still wonder quite why they let Seymour go because, since joining Glasgow at the start of the 2010/11 season, he has developed into one of the more potent scoring machines in the Pro12. He boasts 17 tries in 41 league starts, which says something about the expansive style of rugby that Glasgow have adopted under Gregor Townsend but also says heaps about the winger who has made huge strides to become Glasgow’s first-choice flyer.

With biceps bulging Seymour looks a little like a boxer and sure enough he is light on his feet and punches above his weight. Despite being small for a modern pro, the winger is a difficult man to stop and he has added contact skills to his blistering pace. As a result he has the happy knack of twisting, turning and wriggling out of a tackle to spread panic in the opposition ranks. These same contact skills helped him bag a hat-trick of tries against Treviso last season.

“The match ball never got inflated again,” admits Seymour, who claimed it for himself. “After the flight when I put my bag down in the hall my dog took it out and started chewing on it so it’s actually been on the top shelf in my utility room. It hasn’t come down because the dog will just rip it to shreds but it’s there and I think it’d be great to get another one, but if we get the victory that’ll be just as pleasing.”

Only under duress does Seymour concede that Glasgow should – provided they play somewhere close to their potential – win at a canter this afternoon, and their performance is all important because a crucial period in the season is looming. Next week Glasgow face the infinitely trickier prospect of a trip to Ulster’s Kingspan Stadium fortress (AKA Ravenhill) and one week further on Glasgow play Bath in their opening tie of the Heineken Cup’s successor, the European Rugby Champions Cup (ERCC), a match which bubbles just below the surface of everyone’s consciousness.

It is two weeks and two league games hence but, in a moment of candour, Townsend admitted that Seymour would be aiming to impress this afternoon to secure his starting spot for that Bath fixture before adding, almost as an afterthought, “and he’ll want to play against his old club Ulster as well”.

The winger is not the only threat because this afternoon’s team is packed with tries – then again, you could say that for just about every team that Townsend’s fields. Niko Matawalu gets a start at scrum-half, Josh Strauss returns from injury at No.8, Stuart Hogg continues at full-back and Seymour’s friend and rival Van der Merwe pops up on the opposite wing. The competition seems to bring out the best in both.

“There are little points maybe in the last couple of seasons when we’ve had little jokes about him or me going one in front but DTH’s prowess is second to none if you look at his try-scoring ratio,” says Seymour. “For me, obviously I want to score as many as I can but I’d be stupid to just focus on trying to beat him. If he can get a lot of tries it benefits us hugely, if I can get a lot of tries it benefits us hugely, and then you look at [Sean] Lamont who’s off and running, [Sean] Maitland – we all know what he can do, he went on a rally at the end of last season when he was scoring pretty much every game.

“I want to score tries, it’s what I’m employed to do but, if the other guys are getting bags full of tries and it puts us in strong positions where we’re playing more games and I’m getting more opportunities to play because they’re scoring, I’ll take it, but rivalry’s a good thing, is it not?

“It’s a really, really good unit to be a part of. We are in a position where we are confident in each other, know what each other is thinking, and that works for people coming in and out. Yes, we have a strong squad. The wingers may change one week, or the centres may change, but we are still familiar with every No.10 and every combination. It is a complete blessing. We get a lot of ball, great service, and the offloading ability the forwards have now is incredible. The last couple of years have been phenomenal in regards to the type of rugby I have been involved in.”

Glasgow will win this afternoon – championship contenders don’t lose to the worst team in the league – but they have to win with some style and learning to live with that heightened expectation is all part of the process.