STUART Hogg has almost seemed nerveless at times as a rookie in his first full year of international rugby, and is one of the few Scots who can still dream of wearing a British and Irish Lions jersey this summer. But he concedes that anxiety has crept into the Glasgow camp.
Sitting on top of the RaboDirect PRO12 last week with 14 wins from 19 games, the Warriors were odds-on to clinch a home semi-final but now, after suffering a heavy defeat away to the Scarlets, they are in third spot with confidence shaken.
Tomorrow they welcome reigning league champions Ospreys to a Scotstoun ground that was yesterday doing a fair impression of a paddy field. Glasgow know another loss could drown a season that has built great hope.
“Last week we didn’t turn up at all,” said the full-back. “Obviously we’d like to have won and kept our place at the top of table because, after defeat, we’re in third, which is not where we want to be. But a good win against the Ospreys on Friday night will hopefully get us back up where we belong.
“If you look at the way the Scarlets defended they had 14 men in the line and it was tough to break a defence like that
“We all had the feeling that we were waiting for someone to make a big tackle or a line-break or something, and that would have picked us up, but that didn’t happen and it was a bad night for us.
“We’re up there in the play-off places and we want to do the best we can, and I think last week we just had a minor blip, maybe with getting a bit nervous and uptight about where we are in the table and whether we could hold onto that.
“We’ve never been there [at the top] for a long period before, and maybe at times we’ve looked at that rather than winning games. It’s a collective thing. But we’ve drawn a line under that this week and I’m excited about the game ahead. I’ve only played the Ospreys a couple of times and I think they’ll be a bit nervous about coming from the Liberty Stadium to our pitch, which will be a bit of a shock to them. They always tend to come good towards the end of the season, which is testament to their character, and the fact that they have quality one to 15, and on their bench. So it will be tough but we’ll look to take them on again and, hopefully, this week we will turn up.”
Glasgow name their side today and, while it was kept under wraps yesterday, Hogg will start at full-back with veteran international centre Graeme Morrison back in the midfield.
Head coach Gregor Townsend spoke of the importance of treating the game as any other, admitting that experience suggested to him that one reason for last week’s drop in performance could have been a subconscious belief that the game in Llanelli was not do-or-die for his side, while it was for the hosts.
But Glasgow need to beat the Ospreys tomorrow to secure their play-off spot and follow up with a win away to a tricky Connacht side in Galway to have a chance of claiming a top-two finish and a home semi-final – usually the difference between reaching the final and not.
“We just missed the jump really,” said Townsend of the performance against Scarlets. “We were on the back foot in defence, didn’t take the initiative in attack, and were waiting for something or somebody or something to spark us into life.
“We’ve got to take the initiative and repeat what we’ve been doing this season, because that has brought us success, and while you’ll lose games in a year you always want to see boys putting bodies on the line, taking the initiative and being tough to beat, and that’s probably the first time we haven’t seen that. It’s a sharp reminder that if you don’t get it right, you’ll lose.”
So, it is unsurprising that Townsend is turning to experience. Hogg agreed that the intensity of matches at this stage of a title-chasing season was beginning to feel very like a Six Nations Championship.
He added: “We have picked a strong team this week and will need a strong performance to beat the Ospreys, who are looking for a win to get them up the table as well.
“There are a fair amount of boys who are capped, and a lot more experienced than I am, and boys who have been in semi-finals before that they have come out of on the wrong side of, so there is a lot of experience. It’s now time for everyone to stand up and be counted and let that experience tell.
“There is a bit of Test-match mentality now and it’s finals defence from now until the final, hopefully. It has that feeling.
“We’re in a position to qualify right now but we need the win this weekend to have a chance of a home semi-final. A semi-final is going to be tough but if we’re away it will be even tougher, so we want a semi-final first and foremost, but we want it to be here.”
Badge tribute for Morrison’s ten-year stint
GLASGOW will pay a unique ‘testimonial’ tribute to Graeme Morrison tomorrow night in what could be the international centre’s last home game for the club.
Warriors head coach Gregor Townsend waxed lyrical about Morrison’s influence on the team since he made his debut in 2003, but refused to be drawn on speculation that he will be leaving the club in the summer. Townsend insisted that the decision to have a special commemorative badge stitched on the jerseys for tomorrow night’s match against the Ospreys, a crucial fixture in Glasgow’s bid for a third play-off spot in four years, was a decision made simply to honour the decade of commitment by Morrison to the Warriors.
The 30-year-old educated at Dollar Academy has made 175 appearances since joining the club in 2003 from Glasgow Hawks and has scored 110 points. He has earned 35 Test caps and been a fulcrum of Glasgow and Scotland sides with his powerful physique in midfield, while also helping to nurture a large number of younger players into the Test arena.
However, serious ligament injuries to both knees reduced his pace and effectiveness in recent years, with the most recent one, suffered in April last year, forcing him out of the game for almost an entire year. His contract comes to an end next month and Townsend refused to disclose what the future held, other than to confirm that no new contract had been signed. Glasgow declined The Scotsman’s request to speak to Morrison.
Townsend said: “This is a massive game for the club and it will also be an opportunity for the supporters to celebrate Graeme’s incredible ten years here.
“We’ve thought about it for a while and we’d like to show Graeme respect for what he’s done and what he continues to do. He’s been a great ambassador for the club and has battled through his injuries.
“He’s been here through tough times and good times, and the players feel for guys who pick up injuries like he and others have had, but to see him running around in recent weeks in training has been great and he provides the team with
a focus as well when he gets over the gain-line and puts tackles in.
“It’s a shame for Graeme this year because he was flying in pre-season and had great scores in his fitness tests, but had issues with his knee he couldn’t shake off. But he has trained really well and that’s the reason he’s starting this week.”