Glasgow Warriors wary of Exeter Chiefs’ wounded animals as they chase Champions Cup double
Glasgow’s victory over Exeter Chiefs last month was one of the finest ever by a Scottish club in Europe but Warriors attack coach Nigel Carolan expects a totally different challenge when the squad travels to Sandy Park this weekend.
Rob Baxter’s side were stung by their defeat at a misty Scotstoun but the home side were well worth their win, as Carolan was keen to point out.
“We highlighted to our guys today that we totally dominated them on the stats front,” said the coach. “We dominated possession, we dominated territory, metres carried, line breaks, penalties conceded, turnovers - we won the lot.
“And that was down to how we performed, how we turned up on the night and how we really squeezed them and didn’t allow them to play. That was part of the plan and it worked.
“I know it was difficult to see [because of the mist] and we didn’t have a whole lot of footage to show the lads but the guys have bought into how we want to play and it’s materialised on the scoreboard and the stats sheets. The lads knew they were on top and Exeter just couldn’t find a way back into it.”
Reproducing home form on the road is one of sport’s great conundrums but Carolan takes heart from the way Glasgow performed at the weekend, beating Ospreys in an impressive five-try showing which was played out at an empty Scotstoun due to Scottish Government restrictions.
Carolan was concerned that the absence of supporters could have had a negative impact and was delighted with the way the players managed to lift themselves. Sandy Park will present a different test on Saturday with the Chiefs set to be backed by a noisy, partisan home support as they look for revenge.
A last-gasp defeat away at Harlequins in the Premiership at the weekend would have done little to improve the mood in the Exeter camp and Carolan knows it will require something special for Glasgow to pull off a Champions Cup double against the 2020 winners.
“Exeter are at home and they will be a different animal to what we will have expected up here,” said the assistant coach.
“I know they just got turned over by Harlequins in the last minute when they were down to 14 men at the weekend so they’re certainly not a team you look down your nose at and say ‘we’re going to do it again’. We have to turn up with the same mindset, attitude and doggedness and try to squeeze them again this weekend.
“Look, it’s a different proposition down at Exeter than it is here. We won’t have the crowd behind us. They’ll have their home support and they’ll be hurting after the last performance against us. They’re going to be a better side and we’re going to need to up our ante as well.
“We know they are going to be hurting from that result last weekend. But, from our point of view, we just need to ride the momentum that we have. We are only in control of what we can do.
“We showed up really well against Ospreys, especially given the break [due to Covid] and the fact there was no crowd.
“We need to take that attitude and that mindset to Exeter. Nothing changes from that point of view. We just need to deal with the animal that faces us in the cage once we get down there.
“We know Exeter will be a different prospect than they were in the game at Scotstoun. But we did squeeze the life out of them in that game. They won’t want us to get on top like we did last time.”
It is a measure of the progress made by Glasgow in the last 12 months under head coach Danny Wilson that they head to Devon in such buoyant form.
It’s a far cry from their last trip to Sandy Park, in December 2020, which ended in a 42-0 walloping. The squad has undergone major surgery since, with the newcomers like Jack Dempsey, Sione Tuipulotu, Rory Darge and Josh McKay providing an infusion of talent.
Carolan stresses how important they’ve been while also paying tribute to the improvements made by the existing squad members.
“We are a different team now,” said the former Connacht man. “What’s gone before has gone and is in the past now. We just talk about our last game and our next one.
“We have only been talking about how we can impose ourselves on Exeter in this game rather than what happened last season.
“I don’t think the headspace was as strong 13 or 14 months ago. I think we’re in a much better space. You look at some of the new guys – Jack Dempsey, Sione, Josh McKay and the impact they have made. They are outstanding, consistent performers and really suit the way we are trying to play. They are real game-breakers.
“Also, you look at some of the guys who have been here and some of the shifts they’ve made over the past year. Guys like Sammy Johnson – he’s a different player now. Ross [Thompson] wasn’t even playing on the team 13 or 14 months ago.
“Cole Forbes, Rufus McLean, Rory Darge – they weren’t on the team 13 or 14 months ago. They didn’t experience that game.
“All they know is what’s happening right now. That’s all we can live off and that’s what we’ll continue to tap into.”
Dempsey is available again after missing the Ospreys match but Glasgow will make a decision on the fitness of two other absentees, Richie Gray and Rob Harley, later in the week as they look to shake off niggling injuries.
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