Glasgow Warriors face familiar situation ahead of Pro14 semi-final

Glasgow Warriors' Ryan Wilson looks ahead to the Guinness Pro14 semi final against Ulster. Pic: SNS/SRU/Paul Devlin
Glasgow Warriors' Ryan Wilson looks ahead to the Guinness Pro14 semi final against Ulster. Pic: SNS/SRU/Paul Devlin
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It may be an omen. The only time Glasgow won the Pro12 league title back in 2014-15 they beat Ulster in a hard-fought semi-final at Scotstoun shortly after thumping them 32-10 in the league. This time around Glasgow have another home semi-final at Scotstoun, the opposition the same Ulster team that were hammered 30-7 only weeks ago.

Sadly that is not the only precedent that Glasgow can look to. Twelve months ago they enjoyed home advantage at the semi-final stage after kicking their heels for three weeks and the Scarlets won at a canter despite their flanker John Barclay sustaining that ugly ankle injury.

The exact same scenario holds true this season: Glasgow will have had three weeks without a match ahead of next Saturday’s semi and the danger is that Dave Rennie’s team is a little undercooked come kick-off against one of the form teams in the tournament.

“They will have had two weeks (off) and a week is not a massive difference,” is how Ryan Wilson rationalises Glasgow’s down time. “We will be a little bit fresher but I spoke to the boys after training today. It’s hard to train without a game at the end of the week and I think the boys have been fantastic, the energy in training has been amazing.

“There are guys who have been training, and they know that they are not going to get a shot, it is a 50-man squad effort and everyone has been pulling out the stumps. Yeah, it’s been good.”

The club co-captain asserts that the club is in a better place than it was this time last year and he is surely right about that. Last time out they went into that Scarlets semi with three losses in their last four league matches. If it wasn’t for bad form, Glasgow would have had none at all, the writing was on the wall and the Warriors duly tripped up.

Twelve months on, the Warriors are in a much happier place provided we quietly sweep that Saracens Champions Cup humiliation under the carpet. In the day job Dave Rennie’s club have registered an astonishing seven successive bonus-point wins, averaging 37 points in attack, although Wilson points elsewhere to highlight the strides his club has made.

“We didn’t have much ball in that (recent Edinburgh) game, 38 per cent possession, which is crazy,” says the breakaway. “It just shows the work we are doing off the ball in defence.

“It was questioned at the beginning of the year and now we have definitely pulled through on it. We are doing well without the ball which is something you have to do, be a hard team to beat.

“Then when we do have it we have a good crack with the ball and you can see what we can do, we score some pretty amazing tries.”

Whether by accident or design Glasgow played the old rope-a-dope on Edinburgh. Soaking up the second-half pressure before hitting them on the break, twice, with telling contributions from young half-backs Adam Hastings and George Horne who sparked tries for Nico Matawalu and Tommy Seymour respectively.

Wilson insists that Glasgow’s build-up thus far has concentrated on their own game rather than the opposition but that 30-7 scoreline against Ulster a few weeks back flattered Glasgow and in Dan McFarlane, assistant to Gregor Townsend at Glasgow and Scotland, the opposition has a coach who knows the Warriors inside out. Glasgow have weapons, but they are not the only ones.

If he is fit Jacob Stockdale always poses problems and seems to enjoy scoring against Scotland with three tries in two Tests. Veteran Rory Best, who is retiring after the World Cup, will be desperate to extend his Ulster career by another 80 minutes and Iain Henderson is the sort of player that no one likes playing against, the skills and athleticism of a back row allied to the physique of a lock.

And while Springbok Ruan Pienaar was pulling the strings for Ulster at half-back four years ago, the fans will be perfectly happy with his replacement, John Cooney, an intelligent and dynamic nine who kicks goals and is the heartbeat of the side.

But whatever Ulster bring to the party, and they won’t be shy, you still fancy that if Glasgow can maintain the sort of form that they have shown in the league of late the home team should have a little too much for Ulster to handle even if they may have to wait until the final quarter for it to show.

“We are in a good place,” insists the upbeat Wilson. “Was it last year’s semi-final when we had a massive gap and we didn’t play much rugby?

“We have had a good run in towards this semi. The last three games have been outstanding. Defence has been a big part of that, something we are really pushing on and are proud of, so I think we are in a better place.”

What can Wilson remember about the Ulster semi-final of 2015 when Glasgow went on to win the league? Was he playing?

“I can’t remember,” he replies, “I might have been. I played in the final. I think I did (play in the semi). Don’t ask me about that game because I don’t really remember it.”

It just goes to show that no-one remembers semi-finals, not even those who played in them.