Intense French camp sets up Glasgow for a bright start

GLASGOW fly to the south of France this afternoon bidding to put behind them blows affecting Daryl Gibson and Fergus Thomson and step-up preparations for a much-improved start to the Magners League.

The team have lost their opening two games in the past three seasons and while they then picked up and enjoyed a good run, it left little room for error as they strived to keep an exciting Heineken Cup and league campaign running.

There are several positive indicators going into this season, notably the extra year of experience key young performers such as Kelly Brown, John Barclay, Johnnie Beattie, Fergus Thomson, Graeme Morrison and the Evans brothers, Thom and Max, have gained in the domestic competitions and with Scotland. The finish to last season, where Glasgow won their last five matches, on top of Scotland's Test victory in Argentina, has also buoyed many in the camp.

Now their rising stock has brought a pre-season invitation to the French sunshine and a tournament in memory of the former Beziers and France prop Armand Vaquerin, also featuring Sale, Perpignan, Castres and Montpellier. Glasgow play Castres and Beziers respectively on the next two Saturdays.

Lineen should be a contented man, therefore, but he is wizened enough to know that this counts for nothing if the team again stutter into league action.

"I had a little smile yesterday I must admit when the schedules for France were handed out," he said. "There was some sharp intake of breath.

"Going to France is fantastic for us, because it provides good competition at a time when the players are itching for serious rugby, and without knocking lumps out of each other; it gives us a chance to experiment and get to grips with the new ELVs (Experimental Law Variations] before we play Bristol at Firhill on 22 August; there's a chance for the coaches to chat with other pro coaches; and a change of scenery and training with the sun of your backs is pretty good for morale.

"But players who thought it might be a little holiday got a shock yesterday. It's going to be very intense, with one-to-one training, sessions in small groups, hard work on individual and group skills, unit work, weight training, and a bit more. They have a week off when we get back, so this will be a tough pre-season camp.

"But everyone will benefit from it. Dan Parks, Kelly Brown and John Barclay won't play in the games, because they're behind in pre-season work after the Scotland tour, but they will train hard, and 33 players will play, including Glasgow Hawks back row Greg Francis and Melrose's David Whiteford, who we're taking a look at.

"It's all focused on getting it right from the start this season. We didn't have too bad a first half of the season last year, but in the season review it was clear that some of us didn't think we could win the first two games against Cardiff and the Ospreys.

"That mindset had changed by the end of the season, but it was too late then. We have a squad of very good players, and I know we can achieve more if they have the belief that they can compete from the start."

The decision by New Zealander Daryl Gibson to head home to Canterbury and form a new coaching team with Todd Blackadder at the Crusaders leaves Glasgow minus a backs coach. Lineen is scouting for a replacement back, but not a coach as the former Scotland centre is happy to do more himself but also wants to empower senior backs to take a more leading role in mapping out their own plans.

He is resigned to being without two of his most impressive young talents, Fergus Thomson and James Eddie, until October, and is frustrated at poor management of their injuries – they only yesterday underwent operations for shoulder injuries suffered at least six weeks ago. Stevie Swindall is also touch-and-go to be fit for the pre- season friendlies after injuring a knee on the Scotland A tour.

The other side of the coin, the doors opening for more native talent to emerge and stake places at senior pro level, he is excited about, but Lineen's message to his players three weeks from their first pre-season friendly is that this season is less about development and more focused simply on winning.

"Performance and progress are vital," he insisted, "but gone are the days when Glasgow were underdogs every week, hoping to grab a win every four games to keep our heads above water. Guys like John Barclay and Johnnie Beattie re-signed last year until 2010 because they believe they can win things here. They are ambitious young men, and we have a growing number of them, but they said to me they want to win something with Glasgow.

"Losing Daryl will be a blow, but he will leave a legacy of great ideas and practises for our backs to work on and develop. I enjoy a hands-on role, but I'm also a great believer in senior players being given the space and responsibility to develop ideas and push each other and, ultimately, to make it happen for Glasgow.

"Hopefully, we'll see signs of that in France over the next fortnight and when we face Bristol, Gloucester and then the Dragons in the Magners League we'll really be flying."