Saracens quarter-final is a ‘carrot’ for young Glasgow players

Glasgow Warriors have five Guinness Pro14 games to play over the next two months before they return to London to take on English champions Saracens in the quarter-final of the Champions Cup at the end of March. They will be missing a raft of their leading players throughout that period with the likes of Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Ryan Wilson and Jonny Gray away on Six Nations duty with Scotland.

Glasgow Warriors' assistant coach Jonathan Humphreys helps prepare the team for Friday's Pro14 clash with Ospreys. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

Of course, some of the 20 Warriors players currently in Gregor Townsend’s training squad are going to be released back at points during this Six Nations window, but it is inevitable that several players who have only had limited game time in recent months will be called upon to fill the gaps.

And the situation is exacerbated this year by a fairly
lengthy injury list which includes club co-captain 
Callum Gibbins, hookers Fraser Brown and George Turner, tight-head prop Zander Fagerson and his back-row brother Matt.

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However, rather than be distressed about how stretched the squad is going to be, forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys insisted yesterday that he is excited about players getting a chance to force their way into contention for more regular involvement in what is shaping up to be an exciting conclusion to the season.

“When it comes to this [Pro14] competition, these boys are vitally important to what happens at the end of the campaign,” he explained.

“We’re delighted with how we went [when the international players were away] in the Autumn, and it is a challenge for us to replicate that sort of form and that sort of intensity during this Six Nations window.

“We’re really, really confident in the squad we’ve got. We’ve still got a very, very good team left here. What we’ve done in the past is reward boys who have done well during this period, and the reward for playing well now could be a quarter-final spot against Saracens. That is obviously a massive carrot
for all the young players.”

Humphreys then highlighted a couple of players who have previously used international windows to establish their credentials, including a couple who are now part of the Scotland 
set-up.

“If you look at Grant Stewart, he was in the academy last year and he has now played more Champions Cup rugby than Pro14, and played very, very well,” he said. “Kiran McDonald played well last year and ended up in the European squad. The likes of George Horne and Stafford McDowall have also benefitted from that in the past. So, that’s what players coming into the team should be looking at and working hard to emulate.”

While Humphreys was happy to point to Glasgow’s continuing involvement in the Champions Cup as a way of incentivising players, he did also stress that the priority must be on the here and now – with Ospreys at Scotstoun on Friday night the next obstacle standing in the team’s way as they push towards the Pro14 play-offs.

“It is great that we are in the quarter-finals, but for us at the moment it is vital that we front up and do well in this competition over the next few weeks,” he said. “There are constant work-ons to be getting on with, which are going to be vital if we are to beat any of the top teams in Europe, whether that is in the Pro14 or the Champions Cup, so we need to be focussing on that every week.”

Humphreys said that the Warriors management team have a fair idea of which Scotland squad players are going to be released back this week but are working on a worst-case-scenario basis.

“The relationship between Dave Rennie and Gregor Townsend is great,” he said. “There is a lot of communication, so we’re well versed in what is likely to happen, but obviously injuries can change that, so we’ve got to prepare with what we’ve got.”