TIM Swinson has enjoyed better months. First up he was listed in the Scotland squad to play against Argentina in the opening autumn international in what turned out to be the shortest-lived international appearance in history. It was an error. After red faces all round and half an hour of acute embarrassment he was swiftly un-selected, with his place on the bench going to Jim Hamilton.
The Glasgow lock was then given the nod to take his spot “on the pine” against the mighty All Blacks, only to jigger his back in training just two days before the big game. And, if that wasn’t enough to persuade him to stay in bed and pull the covers tight, he had to endure, from the discomfort of his own sofa, the sight of the Gray brothers ripping up the turf and egging each other on to ever more impressive heights, effectively locking him out of the Scotland starting team for the immediate future.
“I have discovered that playing in November and the autumn Tests isn’t really my thing,” says Swinson with an air of resignation. “I’ve played one game in two years, I’ve been injured for the other five. It’s frustrating but it’s something you have to deal with. I was pretty gutted, as you can imagine, being in before a Test match and then not playing but in the end it was the right decision.
“I was in my living room watching the All Blacks game and trying to persuade my girlfriend that I could play but I couldn’t stand up and sit down very quickly, so I realised that it probably wasn’t possible. It was definitely the right decision.
“I said to a few of my friends back home that everyone wants to play for their country and, after that, everyone wants to play against the All Blacks. I came close to playing against the All Blacks but, unfortunately, didn’t manage to but now, fortunately, I’m playing against the Dragons!”
These Dragons barely pose the same threat as Newton Mearns, let alone New Zealand, their only win of the league season to date having come against Treviso. In fact, Glasgow have already thumped them at Rodney Parade (Why have the Guinness Pro12 authorities made Glasgow play the Dragons and Zebre twice before facing Munster or the Ospreys at all?).
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Admittedly, the Dragons finished within two points of the league-leading Ospreys earlier in the season and Glasgow have endured a couple of hiccups. Last year, when the Dragons recorded a surprise 23-8 victory at Scotstoun, it was the last time Glasgow lost in the league on home soil. Last weekend’s tame surrender to the Scarlets also caused some ripples in the ranks, as Swinson concedes.
“I came in at the start of this week having obviously not been involved down in Llanelli,” said the lock. “The forwards met on Monday or Tuesday and, as a squad, we feel let down by ourselves. We pride ourselves on the physicality of our pack, of our whole team. Teams consistently say that they hate playing against Glasgow just because we are physical and aggressive. That’s something we’ve got to bring regardless of me. It’s got to be numbers 1-15 and then 16-23 on top of that, that’s something we’ve got to bring.”
It’s a tad early to hit the panic button but, after losing four matches throughout the whole of last season’s league campaign, Glasgow have already lost two after just eight rounds of competition with tough trips to Swansea, Munster, Dublin and Galway still to come. Much has been made of the depth of Glasgow’s squad but three of last season’s four losses came when the club was shorn of its Scottish internationals and coach Gregor Townsend must persuade his remaining players to grow into the gap they leave.
Glasgow need this win to get back on track but they also need the points to keep challenging for that coveted top spot. They managed to reach the final last season thanks in large part to hosting the semi-final (against Munster) at their Scotstoun home in front of 10,000 rabid Warrior fans. Glasgow’s best opportunity to win the league outright will probably come when they finish the regular season on top of the pile and can enjoy home advantage all the way to the silverware. They will get some help this weekend when Leinster host the Ospreys and Munster do the same for Ulster. Someone has to lose points, just as someone in the Glasgow team will presumably have to give way to Jonny Gray next weekend when they play Toulouse in Europe.
Swinson could be forgiven for feeling sorry for himself while watching as the Gray brothers did his international prospects no end of harm in the autumn Tests, but there is one other route open to him and, commendably, the big lock says he’ll take it.
“You could sit there and be pretty depressed that Richie and Jonny played very well and it makes my job a lot harder,” Swinson added, “but at the same time I’ve got awesome strength of guys in my position. I’ve just got to focus on what I do and how I can play for Glasgow over this Christmas period and, hopefully, in the Six Nations next year.
“It’s really just focusing on my game. When I play well, I play well and then someone has to make a decision on who plays [for Scotland]. It’s not my decision, I can’t change that decision so I have to focus on how I play rather than worry about how Jonny, Richie, Al, Jim, Gilco or anyone else can play.
“Separating them, play with them… I just have to play the best I can, whether that is for Glasgow or Scotland it doesn’t really matter. If I play well for Glasgow, hopefully I’ll get a shot for Scotland.”
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