ONE of the great things about the Guinness Pro12 is the variety it offers in terms of the different nationalities, cultures, atmospheres and playing environments that are all part of our league’s vital fabric, resulting from having four different countries represented in our unique competition.
I had a conversation with a coaching colleague from the English Premiership recently in which I found myself making the point that, with the exception of our 1872 Cup clash with Edinburgh, nearly all our travel to and from games is via an airport. Bus trips to away games are becoming a distant memory for Scottish players (and coaches!).
This weekend will be no different in that respect when we leave to fly out to Italy at around 7am on Saturday morning on our journey to face Treviso on Sunday afternoon. The Italian side have traditionally been a very tough nut to crack on home soil at the Stadio Monigo and the one thing you can always guarantee is that they will present a formidable challenge in terms of our set-piece.
In many ways, Italian rugby is very similar to the French style of rugby, coaching philosophies, and temperament. French coaches always talk about winning “le combat” – which literally means winning “the fight”. It starts with getting an edge on scrums and driven lineouts, while also relying on their forwards to make big carries, take the game to the opposition, impose their physicality on them and get the home crowd involved. We can expect this sort of physical challenge from Treviso on Sunday.
Over the past few seasons, Treviso have been one of the most innovative teams in Europe, especially in terms of plays from lineout. Under their former coach Franco Smith they seemed to have an unlimited menu of moves from short or full lineouts with a variety of options and movements contained within each play.
Having watched their early season games, they have already used a few excellent lineout moves, and our defence will have to be switched on throughout the game to prevent any line-breaks.
Right now Treviso are re-building but they have some fine young players who have impressed at the highest level of the game such as their young centre Michele Campagnaro and Simone Favaro the flanker, who is a key player for Treviso and returned from injury in their last game with the Dragons. We have had a lot to focus and improve on since our victory over Connacht last Friday and in that respect the extra preparation time we have enjoyed with the nine day turnaround has meant we’ve had a productive training week.
Defensively at Glasgow we pride ourselves on our ability as a side to be very hard to penetrate and breakdown but against Connacht we were not up to the standards we have set ourselves in that respect and the players have been very focused at improving this aspect of our game on Sunday and tackled strongly at training this week. Looking back at the tape of last week’s game, our coaching team were very impressed with Connacht and they have all the makings of becoming a top-six side. They are organised, very fit and play ambitious rugby.
One very pleasing aspect of our victory was that we scored three tries against Connacht in the second half, this against a side that had previously done very well during these periods so far this season – conceding a total of only three points in their first three games. This, again, underlines that our own fitness levels are very high.
Another positive from last weekend was the atmosphere created at the game from our supporters. Our home gate of 5,821 against Connacht was significantly up from the 3,904 who turned out for the corresponding fixture last season.
For me that is proof that Friday evening is just a great night for rugby but also that we are continuing to grow off the field.
While Ospreys’ first win over Munster in Limerick since 2011 has kept them just in front of us at the top of the Guinness Pro12 table, we were delighted to maintain our 100 per cent start to the season. But we are only too well aware of the intense challenge that is awaiting us on Sunday afternoon in the Veneto.