Glasgow Warriors coach Jason O’Halloran has praised the impact of returning World Cup players – and particularly half-back pairing George Horne and Adam Hastings – in re-energising the Scotstoun team during the last fortnight after a faltering start to the season.
Warriors racked up a half century against the Southern Kings at Scotstoun two weekends ago and followed that up with a comprehensive 7-31 demolition of Zebre in Parma on Saturday past. With Dave Rennie’s team kicking off their European Champions Cup campaign at home to Sale Sharks on Saturday afternoon, they have hit some form at just the right time.
“We’re close to full fitness [apart from Jonny Gray, who has been given an extended break] as far as I can see, and we’ve got a bit of confidence over the last couple of weeks, so we’re looking forward to the challenge,” said O’Halloran.
“Adam and George have been pivotal – really enthusiastic and accurate – and brought a lot of tempo to our game which was perhaps lacking earlier in the season,” he continued. “I also thought Ryan Wilson was really good at the weekend, Zander Fagerson has been fantastic since coming back from Japan, as has Fraser Brown, so almost to a man those guys have brought a real edge that has helped us to speed the game up, which is important to the way we want to play.”
Focusing in on Hastings, O’Halloran explained that the stand-off has returned from Japan a more mature player, better capable of running a match for the full 80 minutes rather than dazzling intermittently with isolated flashes of brilliance.
“I know that with Gregor Townsend at Scotland lately they have had a real focus around their kicking game and trying to develop that a lot more. They feel like kicking is an important part of the repertoire when you are a team that is known for moving the ball a lot, and I think Adam’s tactical control through his kicking game has been a lot improved since he’s come back,” he said.
“There have been one or two that went astray, but I think the process around where to kick was excellent.
“Even against the Kings the week before, he had a couple of early kicks which pinned them back which was pivotal to us getting on the front foot, so he’s known as a running 10 but his tactical ability with the boot has really improved for us and that’s crucial because we can’t be a team which just pings the ball around east to west all day long.
“If we do that, we are going to get knocked over and that’s going to put pressure on ourselves, so we’ve got to manage that middle third effectively, which he’s done really well.”
Sale are going to rest their World Cup stars, including South Africa scrum-half Faf de Klerk, who was one of the players of the tournament, but they will still present a significant step up from the two teams Glasgow have beaten in the last fortnight.
“We respect Sale regardless what team turns up,” insisted O’Halloran. “We look back to Lyon last year and they had pretty much all second stringers out there, and other than the first 20 minutes when we scored two tries it was a ding-dong affair.
“As we’ve found in the past, if you give fringe guys a chance then they turn up and play just as well as the established guys. We’ll be really mindful that they’ll be a really good side regardless of who they pick. We know that you don’t have to be too far off mentally to get a hiding. We had that a couple of years ago; we got stitched up when we weren’t quite there mentally.
“Every game’s a must win game for us if we want to get to where we want to get to,” he added. “Everyone knows that in Europe you’ve got to win your home games and get at least one win away from home, so this is a must-win. We’ve been comfortable and got a little momentum going, but this is going to be a completely different thing.
“It’s a typical boxer’s punching scenario when we come up against English sides. They think they can bully us, we think we can outmanoeuvre them with our pace. Both teams will want to establish their game and get on the front foot and dominate, it’s up to us to ensure that it is us who do that. But regardless of how you want to play the game, the foundation is winning the set-piece and the breakdown area. The two areas, if we can dominate them, we can dominate the game.”
O’Halloran wouldn’t be drawn on whether he has cast a covetous eye towards the Warriors head coach role which is expected to come up for grabs when Rennie moves on at the end of the season.
“I haven’t really thought about it, to be honest,” he said. “I’m here to June 2020, but I haven’t thought beyond that. I’ve a young family back in New Zealand, so that’ll be part of any decision. I just want to get these big games out the way. This part of the season is really pivotal for us all the way to the 1872 stuff. I’ll make the decision after that probably.”