Glasgow: Exeter a whole new ball game, says Kellock

Glasgow captain Alastair Kellock is determined his side bounce back in what will be a'totally different game' against Exeter.  Picture: SNS

Glasgow captain Alastair Kellock is determined his side bounce back in what will be a'totally different game' against Exeter. Picture: SNS


HAVING stared deep into the abyss of a European Cup humiliation, Glasgow skipper Alastair Kellock is determined that his team will use their Toulon experience to drive for a first-ever Heineken Cup quarter-final spot.

Glasgow have played second fiddle to their capital rivals, as a result of Edinburgh reaching the last eight of the European tournament in 2004 – albeit with Kellock among them then – and superseding that by reaching the semi-finals in 2011-12, a season, bizarrely, where they were at their least consistent and competitive in the league.

That perhaps shows that there is not some great imaginary wall to the knockout stages for Scottish teams. Instead, the lack of success in the tournament has hinged on an inability to find form at the right time, to have key figures fit for the pool rounds, some incredibly tough draws and an inability to learn lessons speedily enough.

Kellock is one of only three players who has kept his place in the Warriors pack for tomorrow’s home match with Exeter – alongside Josh Strauss and Ryan Grant – though Tim Swinson also remains from the Toulon fall-out, albeit switched back from flanker to his regular locking position.

With four changes also in the back division, that could be taken as a sign of coach concern were it not for the fact that 
Gregor Townsend makes sweeping changes almost weekly. Neither is there a great fear in Kellock that his side were proved to be so far off the pace in Toulon that they might be further from quarter-final material than he envisaged before the tournament kicked off.

Instead, there is a reasoned acceptance that the Warriors came up against the most phenomenal world-class team, and committed the cardinal sin in the Stade Mayol of allowing nerves or lack of confidence to get the better of them, and giving world stars space in which to play.

“The worst thing for me is that we built it up so well,” reflected Kellock. “We talked and talked about it but in that first half we didn’t back it up and that’s what was most disappointing, and not just from a technical point of view but also the effort. I sat in here last week and said to you guys [media] ‘how do we win this game?’

“The answer, I said, was that we do it by doing something different, by being relentless and going at them for 80 minutes. For whatever reason, some mental, some physical, we didn’t do that.”

That has left a painful imprint on the Glasgow squad, but Kellock is clear that their ability not to fold and lose by 50 or 60 points – as a host of top sides have in recent seasons – but to hit back with four second-half tries, is real evidence that there is more in this Glasgow side than has been evident in the past.

“We did score four tries in a very difficult place to score four tries,” he said. “Our attacking game in the second half was as good as it’s been all season, our starter plays were executed extremely well, that’s what we have to take forward. You’d probably have to go back to the end of last season to see us clicking like that.

“But there might be a tendency to look at that second half and think that if we just cut that out we win the game this week, but this is going to be hard, very aggressive and the breakdown will be incredibly difficult – a totally different game of rugby to Toulon. We have to play the conditions as well if it’s wet with a greasy ball.

“But there was a lot of honesty when we looked at the Toulon game and hopefully we’ll put that behind us.”

Exeter head coach Rob Baxter has made a handful of changes to the side that ‘did a Toulon’ on Cardiff by rattling up a 36-3 half-time lead, before letting the Blues come back at them and finishing off a comfortable 44-29 win. That tees up a cracking contest at Scotstoun and one Exeter supporters believe is theirs to win ahead of back-to-back December meetings with Toulon.

Ben Moon is handed a first start at loosehead in place of Brett Sturgess and centre Sam Hill, 20, makes his first Heineken Cup start alongside Jason Shoemark, which means former Ulster back Ian Whitten is shunted back onto the wing with Tongan Fetu’u Vainikolo dropping to the bench.

They are led by former Wallaby lock Dean Mumm, England flanker Tom Johnson starts and Irishman Gareth Steenson is a very capable stand-off and goal-kicker, but they lack the plethora of world-class talent that rained down on the Warriors in Toulon, and this is where the lessons come into play for Kellock.

There can be no slackening off, he stated, rather a desire to start this game with the intensity they applied to the second half last weekend, and maintain it to secure the four points, preferably five, needed to push themselves back into contention to qualify.

“Exeter are a very good team,” the captain added. “They are maybe not dotted with superstars the way Toulon were, but they’re playing really good rugby.

“We won’t underestimate them, we know how good they are. But the mentality of our team this week must be that we need to get our stuff right. We’re on our home park, had our first loss of the season last week, which was disappointing, but stepping back and looking at the first five games, we were better, no matter who we were playing against.

“They’re a good team, but we’re a good team as well. We won five games in the league and we were poor, really poor first half last week for a number of reasons. So this is huge, to show what kind of team we are. We’ve got such a big crowd coming in, it’s Europe, and all that talk we had from as far back as the launch, it all needs to be backed up.

“We need to win this game,” Kellock added. “Mathematically you can always still qualify [after two defeats] but we need to be going into the back-to-back games against Cardiff with minimum five points.

“Exeter are a well-drilled team that work hard for each other, but I would say that we are as well. One bad half doesn’t make you a bad team.”



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