Glasgow Warriors unsure of Sharks’ motives as URC run-in throws up big South African challenges

Glasgow Warriors wing Sebastian Cancelliere dons a tartan snood during a training session at Scotstoun. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)Glasgow Warriors wing Sebastian Cancelliere dons a tartan snood during a training session at Scotstoun. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Glasgow Warriors wing Sebastian Cancelliere dons a tartan snood during a training session at Scotstoun. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Five key URC matches to end the season for Warriors

At the equivalent point in the season last year, Glasgow Warriors were fourth in the United Rugby Championship having won nine and lost four of their 13 games.

Four victories and one defeat in their remaining matches saw them finish fourth, meaning they earned a home tie in the play-off quarter-finals.

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This time around, Glasgow lie second, six points better off than last year after 10 wins and three losses. The improved record means the Warriors are second in the standings as they prepare for the final five matches of the regular season, three of which are against South African opposition.

It’s the Sharks up first, with Edinburgh’s Challenge Cup conquerors coming to Scotstoun on Friday night and retaining second place is a big incentive for Franco Smith’s side because it would guarantee them a home tie in not only the quarter-finals of the play-offs but the semis too, should they make it that far.

Although Glasgow lost at home to eventual winners Munster in last year’s quarter-final, they haven’t lost a regular season URC match at Scotstoun since Smith took over in summer 2022. That record will be put to the test by the Sharks who have finally found some form after a wretched start to the season. They occupied bottom spot in the table not so long ago but are now on a roll following the return of their World Cup-winning internationals, winning four in a row in all competitions. Their 36-30 triumph over Edinburgh on Saturday propelled them into the semi-finals of the EPCR Challenge Cup and they will look to make it back-to-back wins over Scottish opponents on Friday.

The Sharks are heading to Europe to play URC games against Glasgow and the Scarlets before their ‘home’ Challenge Cup semi on May 4 at Twickenham Stoop where Clermont Auvergne will provide the opposition. The South African team are not full members of the EPCR which means they are not permitted to stage semi-finals in their homeland. Nevertheless, they are likely to prioritise the Clermont game over the URC given they are so far off the pace in the latter, and that could mean they rest a few of their big guns for the Glasgow game.

“I think they’ve said they are going to make changes,” said Pete Murchie, the Warriors defence coach. “What changes and who and how, we don’t know. The best thing we can do is concentrate on us. Whoever plays there are general themes there, and when they dip someone in or out, there are still the same general patterns of play.”

A front five that includes players of the calibre of Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi, Vincent Koch and Eben Etzebeth is going to pose a huge challenge at the set-piece and the Sharks complement muscle up front with backline threats such as Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi and Aphelele Fassi.

“They have a classical South African style with big forwards and a lot of backs who can cause problems with individual threats,” added Murchie. “A lot of their tries were very similar. It’s maybe not stringing 20 phases together but it’s wham, bam and they’re in. They have serious wheels whether it’s at nine, on the wing or at 15. If you clock off or give them an opportunity they can punish you.

“Concentration is going to be huge this week. We have to stay on it for the full game and if we do our things right we can nullify threats and if we don’t we can get punished.”

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Having been knocked out of Europe, the URC is Glasgow’s sole focus and there is a determination to land a trophy following their defeat by Toulon in last season’s Challenge Cup final.

After the Sharks game, Glasgow will head overseas for their next three URC appointments. They will face Zebre in Italy on April 27, then have a free week before travelling to South Africa for games against the Bulls and Lions on May 11 and 18 before finishing the regular season at home to Zebre on May 31.

With the play-offs not due to begin until June 7-8 there is scope for some of Glasgow’s longer term casualties to play a meaningful part in the run-in, good news for the likes of Richie Gray, Huw Jones and Sione Vailanu. “There’s a decent cohort who are not a million miles away but at the same time they aren’t imminent but there’s a big group who are coming along nicely,” said Murchie. “If we go all the way to the final we still have eight games to play so we’re going to need everyone. When they do get fit they will be a boost.”



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