Glasgow Warriors rival Celtic and Andy Murray with iconic feat - now improved contract should be on table

Why achievement should rank so high after downing Bulls at altitude

When they sit down to write the definitive history of great Scottish sporting achievements, a special chapter should be reserved for Franco Smith and his Glasgow Warriors squad.

What they achieved in South Africa on Saturday bears comparison with Allan Wells in Moscow, Celtic in Lisbon, Ken Buchanan in Puerto Rico, Sandy Lyle at Augusta and Andy Murray at Flushing Meadows. Historically, Scots and Scottish teams don’t tend to travel well but this was a victory for the ages.

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To go to Loftus Versfeld, one of rugby’s great cathedrals, perched 1350 metres above sea level, and outplay the hosts both physically and tactically, was astonishing to watch.

Over 50,000 partisan Bulls supporters turned up to see a coronation. They thought the hard work had been done last week when their side beat Leinster in the semi-final but they hadn’t reckoned on the courage, calmness and tactical acuity of Smith’s Warriors.

Sione Tiupulotu leads the Glasgow Warriors celebrations after the win over Bulls in South Africa.Sione Tiupulotu leads the Glasgow Warriors celebrations after the win over Bulls in South Africa.
Sione Tiupulotu leads the Glasgow Warriors celebrations after the win over Bulls in South Africa. | Getty Images

Very few away fans were able to make it to the final but Glasgow will stage a homecoming event for the team at Scotstoun on Tuesday evening from 7pm.

Truly, they deserve all the credit that comes their way for the manner of the 21-16 victory which saw them crowned winners of the United Rugby Championship. It is a result that deserves to penetrate beyond the confines of rugby, a breakout triumph which should be shouted from the rooftops. It will, inevitably, be overshadowed by the Euros but amid the all-consuming tournament in Germany, this was a performance worth savouring.

It wasn’t broadcast on terrestrial television and the URC has probably still to capture the attention of the casual sports fan but that shouldn’t be allowed to deflect from this against-the-odds success story. A Scottish club has beaten the best of what South African and Irish rugby could offer, turning the tables on those two powerhouse rugby nations in their own backyards. The semi-final win over Munster in Limerick was special but the win at Loftus was even better.

Glasgow refused to be cowed by the circumstances that seemed to conspire against them. “No excuses,” had been Smith’s mantra from the moment they knew they’d be travelling to Pretoria at short notice for the final. We never heard them moan once about the altitude, the travel, the temperature, the absence of away fans.

Warriors lift the URC trophy.Warriors lift the URC trophy.
Warriors lift the URC trophy. | Getty Images

Smith has been in post less than two years but has built something special with the talented group he inherited. He’s a meticulous planner who knows exactly where he wants to go and he returned to his homeland to pull off a result that will resonate around the rugby world.

A deeply religious man, Smith spoke of his faith after the game and betrayed little emotion aside from admitting he would allow himself and his squad “a wee dram and a cigar”. It was a promise he made when he took over in 2022. One morning at training during those early days, he gave the squad a taste of whisky and told them: “Savour that, keep it in your mind, and one day as soon as we can win something we will have an evening when we can have a dram of whisky and a cigar”.

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It’s likely that there were more than a few drams drunk in the dressing room last night and who would begrudge this group? The brothers, Zander and Matt Fagerson, were outstanding but so too were the rest of the forwards, Jack Dempsey and Rory Darge in particular. At one point Darge stopped a certain Bulls try by holding up Wilco Louw over the line. In the backs, Josh McKay ran his heart out, Sione Tuipulotu was a one-man wrecking ball and Sebastian Cancelliere was the most dangerous attacker on the field. George Horne and Tom Jordan controlled the tempo and the players from the bench added fresh impetus when it was needed.

Glasgow had trailed 13-0 as the clock moved into the red for the end of the first half but Scott Cummings burrowed his way over for a vital try before the break. Horne’s conversion cut the Bulls’ lead to six points and suddenly the visitors were in the game. It hadn’t looked that way when the hosts had led through a Marco van Staden try and eight points from the boot of Johan Goosen. Goosen kicked a third penalty at the start of the second half to increase the Bulls’ lead to 16-7 but it was against the run of play as Glasgow took a grip of the match. First George Turner and then Huw Jones crossed for the Warriors - Horne converting both - and the centre’s score put the visitors ahead for the first time. It was a lead they wouldn’t relinquish although they had to defend a Bulls lineout on their own line at the death while down to 14 men following Jordan’s yellow card.

Franco Smith deserves a new contract.Franco Smith deserves a new contract.
Franco Smith deserves a new contract. | SNS Group

“I’m really proud of the forwards, especially, and the defensive effort they put in up front,” said captain Kyle Steyn afterwards. He also took time out to praise those who hadn’t made the match-day squad but had contributed to their greatest season. The likes of Stafford McDowall and Kyle Rowe were desperately unlucky not to be involved but they had played their part.

For Smith, the aim now is to keep building. “I am really proud of the way they went about their business and how they have bought into the plan,” he said. “And I honestly think this is just the start hopefully and they can keep on progressing.”

The coach is under contract until summer 2026 but his exploits are sure to have caught the eye of more than a few potential suitors. The Scottish Rugby Union has not had much to shout about recently, and is still effectively rudderless following Mark Dodson’s departure, but chairman John McGuigan should be beating a path to Scotstoun to offer the Glasgow coach an improved deal. It’s the least he deserves.

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