It is not so much a case of Glasgow Warriors’ large international contingent failing to deal with life after the heady highs and heart-breaking lows of this year’s Rugby World Cup, as them not getting a chance to properly move on from that mind-spinning experience.
Head coach Gregor Townsend started drip-feeding his star players back into the set-up as soon as was humanly possible after the tournament, and initially it felt as if things were settling down nicely for the reigning Guinness Pro12 champions.
It has been a new experience and learning curve: a different forwards coach, different calls, and different guysJosh Strauss
The likes of Sean Lamont, Richie Vernon and Tim Swinson came back into his starting line-up for the team’s trip to Dublin on 23 October, just five days after that quarter-final defeat by Australia – and although this match ended in defeat for the Warriors, they would have taken comfort from the character of their performance. The outcome of this game swung on two debatable yellow-cardings and an equally contentious penalty try awarded against the visitors. The fact that they returned home with a losing bonus point reflected how close they had come to picking up a rare win in the Irish capital.
The likes of Tommy Seymour, Peter Horne and Gordon Reid returned to the fold a week later when the Ospreys were put to the sword on a balmy afternoon at Scotstoun; while Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell and Jonny Gray were back in harness by the time Cardiff Blues were defeated on their own patch at the start of November. Since then, however, the Warriors have been frustrated as the scourge of terrorism and the rather less horrifying experience of pitch flooding have wreaked havoc on their fixture schedule.
They have played only two games in the last month and neither of those encounters has gone according to plan.
Perhaps still disorientated by their proximity to the Paris attacks the previous week, they were well off the pace during the opening half hour of their Champions Cup clash against Northampton Saints and were never able to recover. The following week they managed a return to winning ways in the Pro12, but their performance in a 13-6 victory over lowly Treviso at Scotstoun fell a long way short of the high standards we have come to expect.
Storm Desmond meant that the Warriors were denied an opportunity last weekend to exorcise the memory of their recent misadventures before returning to Champions Cup action against the Scarlets this coming Saturday.
“It is the weirdest one [start to the season] I have been involved in. There are pros and cons of having games cancelled. You get a bit more rest but you don’t want that break in momentum or concentration,” mused Josh Strauss, who is one of the many players who must have gone from feeling battle weary after an heroic World Cup campaign, to feeling decidedly under-cooked as a consequence of having had so little game time during the last two months.
“It has been a new experience and learning curve: a different forwards coach, different calls, and different guys. So, it has been different, but I wouldn’t say disruptive. It has been a new experience but a good one, and we had to sit down and do the work off the field.”
He added: “On the Saturday [when last weekend’s game was called off] we got an email telling us what do to do. Some of the guys at peak of fitness did a bit of recovery, and the guys who needed a bit would go to gym – it was different for everyone.”
“So we will try and look at the week off as a positive. We have talked the talk, the boys have done the training, now it is time to walk the walk and get it right on the weekend.”
Strauss and his international team-mates were not involved when the Warriors lost at home to the Scarlets on the opening weekend of the Pro12 season, but the South African says he is well aware of the sort of challenge the Welshmen will pose.
“I think they are doing pretty much what they did last season, they have just got it right this year. They have got a very good pack, they are very disruptive. They like to play two open-sides and they are very good at it. They are also very good finishers. So we know what is coming. We just have to get our game to the level we were playing at last season when we played well against them,” he says.