Fraser Brown: Harlequins' Danny Wilson is obviously familiar with Glasgow Warriors but that won't be significant factor

Wilson v Smith subplot adds intrigue to Warriors’ Euro clash with Quins

Friday’s Champions Cup last-16 tie with Harlequins is a huge game for Glasgow Warriors, primarily because it offers them the opportunity to go through to the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite club tournament for the first time since 2019.

But there’s also a fascinating subplot which sees former Glasgow head coach Danny Wilson going up against Franco Smith, the man who replaced him at Scotstoun. It’s going to be an interesting Friday night at the Stoop.

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It’s a game that could go either way. Winning away from home in Europe is hard, particularly in the knockout rounds, but I think Glasgow are well equipped to go and do it.

Harlequins coach Danny Wilson comes up against his old team Glasgow Warriors.Harlequins coach Danny Wilson comes up against his old team Glasgow Warriors.
Harlequins coach Danny Wilson comes up against his old team Glasgow Warriors.

Watching Quins this season is a story of inconsistency probably best demonstrated in their results from the last two weeks, a 50-point hammering by Saracens and then limping over the line against Bath despite being 30+ points up at half-time. They can be blisteringly good at times but struggle to stay present for the full 80 minutes, something Glasgow fans will be familiar with from Danny Wilson’s time.

They’ve got dangerous individuals. Danny Care is an excellent scrum-half, give him space around the breakdown and he’ll snipe. At 10, there’s Marcus Smith who plays so flat to the line and is always a threat, particularly of scrum and lineout. There’s pace and power in the back three and if you kick loosely to them or give them transition ball through turnovers then they can be really dangerous.

Alex Dombrant, the No 8, is a big carrier for them and Andre Esterhuizen at 12 is where they get so much of their momentum. When they get that from a set-piece they are very difficult to stop but they have found it difficult to break teams down in attack if you can best them physically in those first few phases.

They have a capable scrum; big powerful scrummagers who have the ability to win penalties but there are question marks around whether they can scrum long under sustained pressure.

Warriors are now under the tutelage of Franco Smith.Warriors are now under the tutelage of Franco Smith.
Warriors are now under the tutelage of Franco Smith.

At the lineout, it’s all about winning the ball. A central tenet of Danny’s coaching philosophy is coming out on top in the lineout stats and he puts the emphasis on ball-winning over ball quality and that can sometimes be to the detriment of Quins’ natural attacking style because it can be hard to play off poor quality lineout ball.

Glasgow currently sit on top of the URC stats for lineout defence. Danny is a very, very good lineout coach, probably the best I have ever worked with, so this will be a huge battle.

There’s always lots of chat about the Premiership and what an exciting product it is and Quins are right at the top of that conversation because of the rugby they play but in reality they don’t take many risks. They have talked recently about playing too much with ball in hand, not being pragmatic enough and playing in the wrong areas. I fully expect Quins to try and play as far away from their own goal line as possible, look to exit high up the pitch with contestable kicks from nine and 10, hope to win the 50-50s in the air and then pressurise Glasgow from unstructured situations.

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We saw the best and worst of Quins at the weekend when they beat high-flying Bath. They led 40-3 early in the second half but went on to conceded 33 unanswered points and just hung on to win 40-36.

Marcus Smith is one of Quins' danger men.Marcus Smith is one of Quins' danger men.
Marcus Smith is one of Quins' danger men.

For large parts of the second half they looked a little leggy. That starting XV plays a lot of rugby. It was similar under Danny at Glasgow. For large parts of the season, the same 20 or so players were used. They trained every day and played close to 80 minutes every week. Most of the focus went on them and there wasn’t much development and trust in the ability of the rest of the squad. By the end of the season, we looked tired and battered, and there was no resilience, no ability to weather storms.

Danny is obviously familiar with a lot of the Glasgow players but I don't think that will be a significant factor on Friday. We all know each other. We know what Danny’s like from a coaching point of view, we know about his lineouts – a lot of them are exactly the same as the ones he ran at Glasgow. That’s not to say they’re not going to have a really strong lineout but we certainly know the way he thinks around the lineout so it’ll be an interesting contest to see who will come out on top.

Again, the game-plan they have is very similar to the one Danny had at Glasgow.

So, yes, there is familiarity there but it’s a completely different squad to the one when Danny was here at Scotstoun, not perhaps in terms of personnel but definitely in terms of mentality and conditioning. Out fitness is vastly improved and that has meant the ability to execute skills while fatigued and under pressure is much better.

Warriors' Scott Cummings in action.Warriors' Scott Cummings in action.
Warriors' Scott Cummings in action.

There’s a different mentality in how we try to play rugby. We like to look after the ball, control the game with ball in hand and trust every player to execute under pressure. There is a calmness about Glasgow with the ball, a confidence about having the ball 50-60 metres away from the opposition tryline and a belief that they can score from anywhere.

The use of the squad is different, too. Every player at Glasgow knows he could be chosen. They all fit into the system and we’ve seen that over the last two weekends. Whoever comes in, they slot in seamlessly.

There have been conversations over the last week or two about technical things, mostly around the set-piece. Guys like Scotty Cummings, Richie Gray and myself have done bits of analysis around the lineout because we’ve played under Danny’s systems. Franco will take the information on board, but he plays his cards close to his chest.

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He’s intelligent and strong-minded and knows what he wants to do and, while there’s a respect for the opposition, there’s never too much focus on them. It’s a very South African philosophy and it boils down to ‘what we do well is good enough to win rugby’.

Danny is very pragmatic and systematic. He has his process and you stick to it. He spends a lot of time on the lineout.

The attention to detail he pays around the roles and execution of options at the lineout is impressive and it can be hard work for the players. There is a lot of learning and the menu would change every week. It was built around what the opposition would do rather than what you can do better than them. The focus was on picking off weaknesses in our opponents' lineout, their poor jumpers and lifters, and exploiting that.

He’s very clever on how to win the ball at the lineout and puts emphasis on doing it in top level games because ball-winning is more important than quality of ball in that environment. In terms of detail, he is one of the best lineout coaches I’ve ever worked with.

As for Glasgow, they produced a much better performance against Scarlets than they did the week before when they beat Cardiff but I would agree with Franco that there is still quite a lot of room for improvement. Scarlets were poor but Glasgow went out and did what they had to do and won 45-3.

I thought they were pretty good from an attacking point of view. They probably left three or four tries out there if I’m being honest, but defensively they were excellent - really gritty, and strong and powerful in the collisions.

Glasgow’s kick-chase was good and that’s an area that will be important this weekend because Quins will kick a lot of ball to Glasgow.

I think what will please Franco the most is that Glasgow finally got their maul going again at the weekend, and I know he will look to improve further on Friday and be more clinical.

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Europe is as close to international rugby as you can get in the club game. The margins are so small, and it often comes down to the fundamental parts of your game, another reason why this week’s tie is so intriguing. It will be a big challenge to go to the Stoop and come away with a win, but I think Glasgow are a more balanced and better team, with a deeper squad. I think it will be tight but Glasgow have enough to pull away and win in the final quarter.



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