Glasgow Warriors’ bonus point win away to Treviso last Saturday was a reminder of how important the scrum still is in modern rugby. While there were six well-taken tries and some excellent defence from the away team, the decisive moment in the match was when veteran prop Petrus du Plessis trotted off the bench after five minutes of the second half to shore up a scrum which was in danger of getting blown away.
Warriors had already lost loosehead Aki Seiuli to the sin-bin after a series of scrum infringements on their own line at the end of the first half, and had been penalised at the first set-piece of the second half. At the point of Du Plessis’ arrival, they were 19-12 ahead, but the momentum of the opening quarter had been expunged by their opponents’ set-piece domination, and they were required to defend a high-pressure scrum on their own tryline.
Glasgow needed parity at the pit-face and head coach Dave Rennie turned to the 38-year-old South African – who was in his first match-day squad of the season – to provide that stability. Du Plessis wasted no time in showing that despite his advancing years, and lack of recent game time, he still had what it takes.
“The first one [scrum] was on our own tryline and we knew we just needed to secure the ball,” says Du Plessis. “We wanted to get the ref back on our side more than anything because once you start losing the ref in the scrum then things can sway the other way.
“Then, in the second scrum, we all felt like: ‘Okay, we’ve got them here. Let’s really have a go’. We really went through them and that really changed the ref’s perception in terms of us sorting our problems out.
“In terms of sorting out the scrum, you just have to stand up to it, get on the pitch and get on with it. You can’t preach something [to the players at training during the week] and not do it yourself. Maybe it was good for the guys to actually see me playing in that sense.”
Zander Fagerson will return to the starting XV at tighthead prop for this Saturday’s crucial Champions Cup clash against Exeter Chiefs at Scotstoun. Du Plessis is not registered to play in the European competition and Warriors have a few front-row issues, with D’Arcy Rae (hand injury) and Siua Halanukonuka (calf) both out of action at the moment. The home side really need to win with a bonus point to keep alive their quarter-finals dream.
“I’m not saying anything about the team,” was Du Plessis’ considered response to how the front three will line up this weekend, choosing instead to focus on the massive challenge the whole squad face.
The Chiefs defeated Warriors 34-18 at Sandy Park in November and currently sit 10 points clear at the top of Pool 2 in the Champions Cup. They are also leading the way in the English Premiership.
Chiefs don’t absolutely need a win, but the more pool points they accumulate the better their likely draw in the quarter-finals, and it is not in their nature to take their foot off the accelerator.
But Du Plessis insists that Warriors have the firepower to cause the upset they need to keep their quarter-final dream alive.
“The tenacity that Exeter show is always very good so we will need to break through that with our physicality and our speed of ball,” he said. “We will have to be quite crafty in terms of how we break them down, but we have the players to do it.”