Glasgow Warriors may be flying into the final round of the regular season on the back of nine straight wins, the most recent by a record margin, but hooker Fraser Brown insists there is still more to come.
The 70-10 thumping of Zebre may be caveated by the weakness of the Italians’ resistance, with the previous 46-10 rout of Scarlets in Llanelli a more accurate gauge of the champions’ surging momentum. It is reminiscent of last year’s strong finish which ended with a historic Guinness Pro12 title, though Brown is adamant that there remains room for improvement.
“At times I think we’re playing better but I still think we haven’t really put together an 80-minute performance,” he said. “I know we played well down at Scarlets but there are a lot of things we can improve on from that game.
“You never play the perfect game of rugby, so that’s something we are still striving to do – put together a full performance for 80 minutes.”
Glasgow did look a bit shaky in the first 15 minutes last weekend, conceding a soft try, yet they still managed three of their own in that spell and had the bonus point bagged soon after. There will be no room for complacency from now on as they prepare to face second-placed Connacht in Galway tomorrow before embarking on their fifth successive assault on the play-offs.
“Specifically, there have been times in our attack but we have lost easy balls,” said Brown. “Or we have a five-minute lapse in defence and it gives the opposition easy inroads.
“Those are things we have to tighten up and try to improve, especially this weekend and hopefully for the next couple of weekends.”
The winning streak has seen Glasgow climb from the bottom half of the table earlier in the year to top spot and Brown said: “It all goes back to the work the guys did, the whole squad, during the Six Nations. We had some very important games in that period – against Dragons, Cardiff and especially the two against Leinster and Ulster. When the guys came back you could see that everything was ramped up in training and then the week in Italy was perfectly timed almost as a squad bonding experience.”
Brown was on the bench against Zebre but is expected to return to the starting XV which will be named by coach Gregor Townsend today. The Scotland internationalist explained that, while the famed Scotstoun squad togetherness was as high as ever, there has been an inevitable spike in competitiveness during training as the players jockey for selection in these big end-of-season games.
“It does get edgy in training. But not outside training, I don’t think,” said the 26-year-old. “Everyone here respects each other enough to know that what goes on on a rugby pitch stays on the rugby pitch.
“So it does get edgy but it wouldn’t be a good environment if it didn’t. Guys wouldn’t be pushing each other if they didn’t. You want a bit of niggle, guys to be having a go at each other, doing stuff that is illegal, because you’re going to get that at the weekend.
“If you don’t do it in training you’re not going to be prepared for it.”
Managing the squad at the end of a gruelling World Cup season has been one of Townsend’s key tasks and, while Brown accepts the need for rest periods, he is honest enough to say it can be a vexing process.
“If you ask the players, the rotation is pretty frustrating because no one doesn’t want to play,” he said. “This game at the weekend, everyone wants to play because guys want to keep playing and don’t want to give other guys a chance in their position. But the strength and conditioning team and Gregor and the other coaches manage the whole squad really well, and obviously they have a bigger plan than us, not just a game coming up
“They know what they’re doing and they’ve managed the squad really well for the past couple of years. Last year was a prime example because they topped it off by winning the league. Hopefully guys are feeling fresh and it seems to be working again this year.”
Tomorrow’s match in Galway will certainly be a big step up from last weekend. While not quite of Leicester City proportions, Connacht’s rise from Ireland’s weakest province to potential table toppers at the end of the regular season, is a remarkable one.
Pat Lam is a serious contender to win coach of the year, which Townsend scooped 12 months ago, at Sunday’s Pro12 awards dinner in Dublin. The poor relations of Irish rugby, when compared with the powerhouses of Leinster, Munster and Ulster, have undoubtedly been helped by the fact they have lost far fewer players during the extended international periods this term, but their progress has been building over the last few years.
Brown is certainly expecting a huge test on the Emerald Isle’s west coast tomorrow afternoon and said: “They have a very similar kind of gameplan to us. They like to play with the ball. I think they are the only team in the league that keep the ball in hand more than we do.
“In the last couple of weeks we’ve played teams who like to keep the ball tight. Scarlets are quite expansive but they have big ball carriers. I don’t think we’ll see that this week, with Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw in the centres. They can be very direct at times but they also like to put a bit of width on the ball. They are very good across the park and they are going to test us defensively.”