In a famous 1960s cult crime caper, crafty cockney Michael Caine trains up a misfit gang of criminals to undertake an audacious mission to the continent to steal a stash of gold. Gregor Townsend’s version of The Italian Job may not match the original production in terms of glamour, the storyline is rather more mundane quality (there isn’t likely to be a Mini Cooper sighted all week), but that won’t matter a jot to Glasgow Warriors fans if their team can return home in full possession of their bounty (ten valuable league points).
The Warriors completed the first leg of their mission on Saturday evening, by scoring six tries in a 38-16 victory over Benetton Treviso, lifting them to fourth and into the play-off places in the Pro12 table. Now, their sights are set on pushing their way into third spot with a win over Zebre tomorrow night, before making a quick getaway.
They will be flying to Glasgow and not travelling through the Alps by bus. Townsend has no time for a cliffhanger, with a trip to Llanelli slated for next Saturday to take on play-off rivals Scarlets.
After a disjointed start to this league campaign, disrupted by international call-ups, injuries to multiple players in the same position and postponed matches, last season’s champions have come good at just the right time. They will be going for their seventh win on the bounce against Zebre, and, with momentum now on their side, look a decent bet to secure a home play-off tie by finishing the regular season in the top two.
Hooker Fraser Brown is certainly confident that everything is now in place for the team to continue their push during the final four league matches, adding that this opportunity to spend a week as a squad together in Italy could give the team a crucial edge during the run-in.
“It’s been well written about all season that we’ve not been at the heights we hit last year, but I think this week couldn’t have happened at a better time with [practically] the whole squad coming back in,” he said.
“It has allowed guys to spend a bit more time in each other’s company and get a bit more familiar with one another. Then having this run of games, you can see the confidence coming back into the squad. It looks like we are hitting form at just the right time.
“Obviously it is nice to be back in that top four. It was only about five or six weeks ago that people were writing us off, but we’ve always known that we had these two games in hand and our destiny has always been in our own control. The top two in the league is still very much achievable and it’s just down to us picking up as many wins as we can.”
“Some people said last week that we went looking for the bonus point from the beginning but that isn’t the case,” added Brown. “We just wanted to pressurise Treviso through our set-piece and particularly our line-out.
“We expected both games out here to be difficult and we know we are going to have to stay grounded and concentrate on getting the win before we think about anything else.”
The hooker is one of the key players in the Warriors squad to have suffered through injury this season. He missed almost all of the first half of the campaign whilst recovering from foot surgery, returned for four matches at the end of December and the start of January, before being ruled out for another six weeks with an ankle injury.
It has been a frustrating time for Brown, who has managed nine games all year – but don’t expect to hear him reciting the words from The Self-Preservation Society. He has now started five matches on the bounce and is delighted to have the chance to put his body on the line for the team.
“I think I’ve been playing well. I’m pleased with my set-piece – I don’t think we’ve lost a scrum or a line-out in the last two games – and I think I’ve been playing quite well around the park as well. It’s just nice to have a run of games,” he said.