Glasgow Warriors URC preview: new coach, new era as club bids to reconnect with fans

In three short years Glasgow Warriors have gone from losing the Pro14 final 18-15 to Leinster in front of 47,000 fans at Celtic Park to being hammered 76-14 by the same opponents in Dublin. Something, somewhere has gone badly wrong.

Danny Wilson paid the price and Franco Smith has been charged with restoring Glasgow’s lustre. The former Italy coach and head of high performance is credited with bolstering the Azzurri’s age-grade teams, notably the Under-20s who beat Scotland, England and Wales in this year’s Six Nations. Smith needs to reconnect the club with its disenchanted supporters after a season that ended with five consecutive defeats.

2021/22 URC stats

Regular season: P18 W10 D0 L8 F409 A376 Pts50 = 8th

Glasgow Warriors head coach Franco Smith will lead from the front. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

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Quarter-finals: lost to Leinster

Top try scorers: Johnny Matthews (7)

Top points scorer: Ross Thompson (99)

Prospects

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South African forward Sintu Manjezi has joined Glasgow from the Bulls. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

Having had both scheduled friendly matches cancelled through no fault of their own, Glasgow are in danger of going into the new campaign as undercooked as steak tartare.

Glasgow were a top four side for much of last season but crumbled alarmingly in the home stretch as they faced a run of tough away fixtures. Smith needs to find a cure for their travel sickness and their worrying tendency to fall out of games in the second half.

Top eight should be within their grasp but it won’t be easy with the South African and Irish sides likely to rule the roost once again.

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Head coach

Huw Jones has returned to Glasgow Warriors after a season with Harlequins but will miss the start of the URC due to a back injury. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

Much has been made of Glasgow’s lost ‘identity’, with the buccaneering style forged by Lineen, Townsend and Rennie giving way to a stodgier fare under Wilson. In truth, losing players of the calibre of Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg was always going to mean a change of tack.

Franco Smith was raised in the South African school and the former Springbok will bring a harder edge. The early signs are that he has worked assiduously on the squad’s fitness in pre-season, with 7am fat-burning sessions before breakfast for what he terms the ‘cheese puff squad’. A tough customer but he needs buy-in from the players.

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New kids on the block

All the recruitment was done before Smith’s arrival. The Warriors have beefed up their pack with the addition of Scotland prop Allan Dell from London Irish, South African locks JP du Preez and Sintu Manjezi (who can also play flanker) and Tongan back-rower Sione Vailanu. Huw Jones has returned to add some potency to the backline but the Scotland centre will miss the start of the season with a back problem. Dell is also out, having picked up a calf injury.

Missing you already

No-one has played more often for Glasgow Warriors than Rob Harley but the club stalwart was released at the end of the season and is now in France with Carcassonne. Also heading out the Scotstoun exit door are Kiran McDonald (Wasps), Hamish Bain (Jersey Reds), Grant Stewart (Connacht), Tom Lambert (NSW Waratahs), Ewan McQuillin (Selkirk), Robbie Fergusson and Ratu Tagive.

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Home comforts

New temporary stands are being erected at each end of Scotstoun and should be ready for the club’s first home game, against Cardiff on September 23. The game is on a Friday night, a source of some relief to the Warrior Nation who were mightily teed off with last season’s fixture schedule. Al Kellock, club legend turned MD, lobbied the URC hard for the return of Friday night rugby at Scotstoun and has been rewarded with six of their nine home games being scheduled as such.

Musical interlude

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The Warriors like to warm up the crowd with a mash-up of I Belong to Glasgow and AC/DC’s Back In Black. Unusual but it works.

Captain

Kyle Steyn’s appointment was an early sign that Franco Smith would be doing things his own way. The wing/centre takes over from Fraser Brown and Ryan Wilson who shared duties last season. Steyn is certainly not lacking ambition, immediately stating that the goal was to win the URC.

Pre-season form

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Ahem. Impossible to tell following the cancellation of the games against Worcester (due to their financial problems) and Ulster (due to the Queen’s death).

Opening fixtures

A trip to Treviso will hold no surprises for Smith who used to coach Benetton and a winning start on Friday would be the perfect fillip but Glasgow have come unstuck on their last two visits. Cardiff visit Scotstoun on September 23 then it’s Ospreys away and the Bulls at home.

Prediction

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Smith’s preparations have been disrupted but he will look to quickly put his stamp on Glasgow and should be helped by a decent early run of games. Top eight has to be the minimum aim.

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