IT HAS been an interesting week so far, one that has underlined the requirement for adequate squad depth to help secure success at pro level.
After the opening three games of the Guinness Pro12, 29 different players have taken to the field in a Warriors jersey. That number is likely to increase again over the next few weeks, as we have players such as Al Kellock, Tom Ryder, Dougie Hall, Finn Russell and Sean Maitland returning from injury and there are a few others also pushing hard for selection. Last season we used 46 players throughout the campaign and, in 2012-13, 52 Warriors represented the club in competitive fixtures.
This shows the demands that are placed on professional players in the northern hemisphere, and also the opportunities that exist for both established and squad players in a normal season.
It’s important that players grab these opportunities and that has certainly been the case over the past two seasons at Glasgow. We now have real squad depth with strong competition in every position, making for difficult team selections every week for the coaching staff.
Last Saturday at Rodney Parade, we had a different sort of challenge with playing numbers – this time we had too few players on the pitch, as we had to play the second half against the Dragons with 14 men, following Tyrone Holmes’ harsh red card.
All credit must go to our players though, as they dealt with this obstacle wonderfully well, displaying resilience, fitness and excellent decision-making to record our first bonus-point victory of the season.
We knew that with the opening games of the Guinness Pro12 being against the three teams who beat us last season, we were going to face a tough start to the league campaign and we are delighted we have come through these fixtures with a 100 per cent record.
However, there are a number of things that we will have to improve upon against Connacht and that has driven us in training this week.
First of all we’ll have to improve our catch-pass skills, and make sure that our support to contact is more accurate.
If you look at Connacht, like us, they are unbeaten, and the level of confidence they will have taken from their fantastic victory over Leinster will be huge.
It is interesting to note that in Connacht’s last two games, neither Edinburgh nor Leinster were able to score a point against them in the second half and that illustrates just how fit they are, how high their level of belief is, and that defensively they are very well organised.
Under Pat Lam, Connacht have also focused a lot on their team culture and his belief that if you get that right then the rugby will take care of itself, is one I also subscribe to.
If a team has a good defence, it usually means that you have a group of people that are prepared to fight for each other, put their bodies on the line for the club, and put in the hard work that is required to win.
This is a culture in action, and this is evident in the progress that Connacht have made in the past two seasons.
Last season’s victory away from home against Toulouse in the Heineken Cup showed what the men from the west of Ireland were capable of, and to defeat Leinster three games into the new campaign is just a huge result, so Connacht are clearly making the right decisions and they know exactly what they are doing.We are expecting a very tough match on Friday night.
Connacht have a different defensive set-up to the ‘blitz’ we faced at the Dragons last weekend.
The Irish side have a well-organised defence, more of a New Zealand defensive system, which tries to move the opposition into positions they don’t want to be in.
Connacht have always been a team that compete very hard at the breakdown but now, under Pat Lam, they seem to be a team that choose which breakdowns to go after.
They will select some breakdowns that they won’t contest in order to get 14 or 15 players back on their feet to defend the next phase. Our attack will have to be very accurate to counter this defensive strategy.
But we go into tomorrow’s game with real momentum behind us and the players look to be in great physical shape at the moment, as we have finished strongly in our last two games.
Obviously in front of our home supporters there is that extra onus and there is nothing we love more than a home game at Scotstoun on a Friday night.
I believe the Friday night fixture is a perfect fit for both players and supporters, although from a coaching standpoint we don’t mind a Saturday or Sunday game, as you get another day or two of coaching during the week. But we have had so many special nights at Scotstoun on a Friday night and the atmosphere really lifts our players.
Our last two home games were cracking matches – both narrow victories – most recently our win over the defending champions Leinster.
But the previous home fixture was the Pro12 play-off semi against Munster, on a Friday night back in May, that was one of the most unforgettable nights I’ve been involved in during my rugby career, and the noise generated from the crowd that night really helped us over the finish line.
There’s no doubt about it that playing an unbeaten and in-form Connacht side should make for another memorable night of rugby at Scotstoun.