Glasgow Warriors: It is so hard to account for their travel sickness
The nickname might now be attached to the Glasgow Warriors squad en bloc. Fine, often brilliant, at Scotstoun, they are desperately poor away from the comfort of home. Shrinking violets also ran. It’s mysterious, for it's not as if they are all home-town boys dependent on Mother’s mince and tatties.
There’s some respite for Glasgow’s reluctant Gullivers today since they are at home to Bulls todat. Small respite, you may say, since their opponents two weeks ago, Edinburgh, ran them close after flying to South Africa. So, on paper, Glasgow in their own fortress, have a fair chance today. But would even a home win put them in good fettle for a trip to South Africa to play the Sharks next week?
It's hard to account for Glasgow’s travel sickness. Look at the team – not short of experience, not short of stardust either, even in the unfortunate absence of the brightest of their young stars, Rory Darge. One thought – hoped – they had touched rock-bottom when they lost, feebly, away to Benetton in the opening round of the URC. They followed it, of course, with a brilliant demolition of Cardiff at Scotstoun, scoring tries for fun that Friday evening. But then, last week, they lost to the Ospreys in Swansea and were embarrassingly poor. Has some auld spaewife laid a curse on the team that causes their blood to freeze and nerve to fail whenever they step out of a plane?
Of course, winning away from home has never been easy. One has only to look at Scotland’s record at Twickenham or in Paris, Cardiff and, recently, Dublin, to realise this. Jim Renwick was one of our greatest ever players, but he had played ten years of international rugby before winning away in the Five Nations. The club game was no different in the amateur days. Very few visitors won at Hawick’s Mansfield Park in the years when the Green Machine was in full working order.
Still it ought, one thinks, to be different now. Of course, any professional club will expect to have a better record at home than away. This is the case with football and cricket too. Home advantage is a reality. Nevertheless the disparity between Glasgow’s recent home and away record is extraordinary. The longer a losing run, the more players come under pressure. Nobody can doubt that run of defeats plays on the mind. A whole XV can then find themselves in the position of a golfer who has missed a succession of putts and then finds himself faced with a tricky three-footer. That seems to be where Glasgow are now whenever they play away from Scotstoun. Expecting victory may make you over-confident, but fearing defeat usually makes losing likely. How Glasgow’s coaches and team leaders change the mental approach to away games is a hell of a problem.
Meanwhile, Edinburgh are in a rather better condition. Indeed, their two narrow defeats in South Africa were close enough for them to be more irritated than despondent. They will have met South African opposition again for the third match in succession by the time you read this, but this time at home. It will be disappointing, and even a surprise, if they have lost to the Emirates Lions.
The closure or collapse of Worcester Warriors has enabled them to bring Duhan van der Merwe back to the club. With their Argentinian wing/full-back Emiliano Boffelli returned from international duty they have almost an embarrassment of riches on the wing, Darcy Graham having already scored five tries this season. It will be interesting if Mike Blair should think of fielding Van der Merwe at outside centre. Given he fluidity of the modern game, he might also be a formidable No 8, especially since he has a fondness for getting into close-quarter action. It’s unusual, of course, for a player to alternate between the scrum and the back division, tough not unknown. Almost a hundred years ago, the great Springbok Danie Craven played Test match rugby at both scrum-half and No 8.