Glasgow coach Dave Rennie is braced for one last “desperate” blast by Lyon to revive their flatlining Heineken Champions Cup campaign when he takes his team to France for Saturday’s Pool 3 encounter.
Lyon have lost their opening two fixtures against Cardiff and Saracens, which would normally be enough for most French clubs to redirect their focus to domestic concerns, but Rennie is anticipating that the tournament debutants will have one last bash at getting a foothold in the competition.
“I imagine it will be desperate as it is a massive game for them,” said the Kiwi. “If they don’t get it right, their European campaign is over.
“They are a side that offloads a lot and they kick the ball a fair bit. They’re pretty creative – one of the best French sides around. We think there are opportunities but we’ll have to be really clinical and look after the ball.”
It’s not often that a Scottish team travels to France as favourites in Europe, but Glasgow do so this weekend knowing that a victory could lead to a weakened French outfit coming across for the Scotstoun return, not that Rennie is publicly expecting that.
“I’m not sure what their mindset will be if we get a result there,” he said. “At home, the French sides are different creatures.”
Rennie said the vibe in the Warriors camp was still buzzing from a terrific 14-man win over the Scarlets at the weekend, by what was effectively a second string.
“It was enjoyable, but we’re looking forward now,” said Rennie. “There will be a fair bit of change of personnel.
“Obviously it was a big effort at the weekend and there are some pretty sore and tired bodies, but some guys will be rewarded and we’ll bring in some fresh legs.
“We had a pretty clear plan in mind around Lyon. Obviously the international guys have played a lot of footie and we needed to freshen them up mentally as well as physically. Even guys like Callum Gibbins [pictured] and Rob Harley, who trained the whole time with Scotland without getting a sniff, we just felt we had to freshen them up. They’ve come back in, keen as.
“A few internationals have come back over the past few games but the group that has been here has done a really good job.
“We’ve picked up 16 points from the past four games and there was pretty good opposition amongst that – Munster, Ospreys, Cardiff and Scarlets. Those boys have done a good job and the challenge for the guys coming back in is that we have to raise standards even more.”
Rennie believes Glasgow are well placed to drive into the new year, in contrast from 12 months ago when they suffered a wobble which went on to linger through what became a limp end to the season. Eliminated in Europe with back-to-back defeats by Montpellier, and a loss to Edinburgh in the 1872 Cup, seemed to shake the confidence of Rennie’s men after an unbeaten start to the Guinness Pro14.
A year on, the coach is confident that things will be different.
“You try to build momentum, you try to drive expectation – the good thing is that the group that played last week put a little bit more pressure on for people to keep building what we are doing,” he said.
“What we know is that this [Lyon] is a massive game for us, and if we don’t get it right then it is doubtful we’ll get out of the pool stage, but if we get it right and get it right the following week, then we put ourselves in a really good position with Cardiff coming here in round five.
“Then, obviously, we’ve got a couple of big Edinburgh games following Europe, so if we can get it right over the next month we can put ourselves in a good position in both comps.
“We’ve got a bit of a plan around how we manage guys so that we are not just churning out the same team for the next four weeks, but at the same time there are a number of guys who will need to be rested at some stage because we’ve got Treviso and then we’ve got two more European games, so those international boys can’t play all the way through the period.
“We’ve got a plan but it is often tweaked based on injuries.”
And on that subject, Rennie added: “Everybody came through [the Scarlets game] reasonably well.
“We’ve obviously got a judicial hearing for Alex Allan tomorrow, Swinno [Tim Swinson] got a bit of a knock to the head but he’s the only guy I know who consistently passes those [Head Injury Assessment] tests – just about everyone else fails them even if they are alright the following week – so outside of that we’re all good.
“Sam Johnson and Lee Jones’ return – they hope – will be around Treviso [in January]. Zander Fagerson will probably be February.”