Mike Blair has challenged the Glasgow Warriors squad to bounce back from last weekend’s defeat away to Cardiff Blues by producing a big performance at home against high-flying Ulster on Friday.
The former Scotland scrum-half, who is now part of the coaching team at Scotstoun, reckons the team did not play particularly badly down in Wales, but came unstuck through a combination of bad luck and things not quite clicking at the right moment against a top-level defence.
There is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, Blair insisted. There are bound to be hiccups along the way, but Glasgow are still in pretty good shape in terms of the season as a whole.
“We are disappointed not to have won because we expect to win every game we play, but we did get a bonus point and we are on 11 points after three pretty tough opening fixtures – against the two finalists [from last year] and then Cardiff away from home, who finished pretty strongly last year and have improved their defence a lot – so we will take a lot from that. It pretty much equates to three victories,” said Blair.
“We went 14-13 ahead after 35 minutes [against Cardiff] and were really pleased with how things were looking, but they got a penalty on the halfway line at 40 minutes and Gethin Jenkins took it on and they scored after seven or eight phases – with Rey Lee-Lo in the centre producing an offload that only Pacific Islanders can do – so from a situation where they would have been really disappointed and questioning themselves, they went in with a lot of momentum.
“In the second half we played some good stuff and were able to put phases together and made a couple of breaks but didn’t quite finish them, and Cardiff’s defence was really strong.
“We had some injuries – with Josh Strauss coming off at half-time and Fraser Brown coming off after 20 minutes – which caused us some issues and perhaps disrupted the flow a little bit, but Cardiff deserve their win for the way they took their opportunities and the way they defended.”
“You do a lot of your learning when you lose games. The players and the coaches are on the same page,” he added.
Ulster are one of three undefeated teams in the Guinness Pro12 so far, along with the Blues and the Ospreys, and Blair agreed that there is no doubt that his team will have to be on top of their game if they are to get back to winning ways tomorrow night.
“Ulster caused us issues the last time we played them here by putting a lot of effort and numbers into the breakdown. Charles Piutau, who they’ve signed at full-back, has been outstanding since the start of the season so we have to keep an eye on him; Paddy Jackson, who is full of confidence after his series with Ireland, was man of the match last weekend; and Ruan Pienaar has been the heartbeat of their team for four or five seasons,” he said.
“So there are key players we have to shut down. They are a quality team with threats right across the pitch, so we’ve got to make sure our defensive game is absolutely spot on and have a few things up our sleeve in attack as well.
“But we have got a bit of history playing against them here at Scotstoun. They have never won here. That is a proud record for us but is something that will motivate them. Glasgow do not like losing and we need to see a reaction and I’m sure we will.”
The deal to bring American No 8 Langilangi Haupeakui to Scotstoun is not yet finalised, while Adam Ashe, Simone Favaro, Chris Fusaro, Ryan Wilson and Strauss, pictured, are all either unavailable or struggling with injury, so the Warriors may be a bit light on back-row options this week. However, rather than being a problem, Blair says this should be seen as an opportunity for the likes of Lewis Wynne and Matt Fagerson to make the step up.
“Lewis came off the bench on Friday at half-time for Josh and had an incredible involvement. He contributed 1.2 actions per minute. You would expect a scrum-half to make most contributions, and a busy game would be 1.2 per minute, so he is contributing a lot with his rucking and carrying game,” enthused Blair.
“Matt played against Canada A like a mid-20s player who had been in the gym for ten years. He might have been in the gym for ten years such is the size of him, but he is only 18 years old. He is a phenomenal athlete. It is brilliant for the club that these young talented players are coming through and getting the opportunity.”