Why Glasgow Warriors will need to find a whole new level in URC final as Franco Smith explains veteran's inclusion

Smith braced for hostile atmosphere as they take on Bulls

Glasgow Warriors were widely acknowledged as being magnificent in the way they overpowered and outplayed Munster at Thomond Park last weekend in the semi-final of the United Rugby Championship.

The mix of courage, skill and tactical nous had neutrals cooing about the performance Franco Smith coaxed from his squad. But the coach is of the belief that they will have to find a new level of excellence if they are to prevail in Saturday’s URC Grand Final against the Bulls in South Africa.

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The odds are stacked against the Warriors in the showdown at Loftus Versfeld which will be filled to its 50,000 capacity. As well as enjoying home comforts, which they earned through their higher league finish, the Bulls have the significant advantage of being accustomed to the heat and altitude. Glasgow, who only fully assembled in Johannesburg on Wednesday, need to acclimatise quickly if they are to realise their ambition of a first piece of major silverware since 2015.

Vodacom Bulls captain Ruan Nortje and Glasgow Warriors skipper Kyle Steyn pose beside the BKT United Rugby Championship trophy which will be presented after Saturday’s final at Loftus Versfeld.  (Photo: ©INPHO/Ben Brady)Vodacom Bulls captain Ruan Nortje and Glasgow Warriors skipper Kyle Steyn pose beside the BKT United Rugby Championship trophy which will be presented after Saturday’s final at Loftus Versfeld.  (Photo: ©INPHO/Ben Brady)
Vodacom Bulls captain Ruan Nortje and Glasgow Warriors skipper Kyle Steyn pose beside the BKT United Rugby Championship trophy which will be presented after Saturday’s final at Loftus Versfeld. (Photo: ©INPHO/Ben Brady)

Smith, who used to play for the Bulls, is under no illusions about the scale of the task and insists more is required than was produced at Thomond.

“I don’t think what we did last week would be enough to beat the Bulls here and to make a step up is going to be a big challenge,” said the coach at the pre-match press conference in Pretoria. “I’m South African so I know how their hearts beat and I know how the blood goes through their veins and I know how they desperately want to succeed. So we face another challenge. It’s comparable [to Munster] but we definitely see this as a different challenge and we must step up if we want to be competitive until the end.”

This is year two of the Franco project and the progress continues to be impressive. A forceful presence who has made the squad fitter and more disciplined, he has also helped the players reconnect with the club’s attacking traditions and work ethic. They reached the final of the European Challenge Cup last season but failed to do themselves justice against Toulon in Dublin, going down 43-19 after a pallid performance.

The real Glasgow never turned up that night and whether that was down to nerves or simply an off day, or a combinations of the two, the important thing is that there is no repeat this weekend. Smith insists “lessons have been learned” and certainly the way the team have played in reaching the URC final suggests they have added durability and big-match temperament to their game.

Duncan Weir has been included in the Glasgow matchday squad.Duncan Weir has been included in the Glasgow matchday squad.
Duncan Weir has been included in the Glasgow matchday squad.

Last week’s win over Munster was achieved in a hostile environment and Smith believes it will stand them in good stead for Loftus.

“I think we’ve learned a lot from last week’s game,” said the coach. “There were 20,000 Irish supporters at Thomond Park and it could have been intimidating. But I think we’ve taken a lot from that in our preparation for this week. We know that we’ll face a pretty hostile crowd over here as well. It’s just double the number that we saw last week. But again it’s [about] focusing on the task in hand and not getting engulfed by the occasion.”

Smith has never been afraid to change a winning team and his rotation policy has ensured as many players as possible have been exposed to top-level rugby. But for the URC play-offs he has taken a different tack and selected the same starting XV for the third game in a row. It’s an unprecedented state of affairs but makes perfect sense given the way Glasgow saw off Stormers - the 2022 URC champions – and Munster – last year’s winners – to reach the final.

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Has had made two changes among the replacements, however. Prop Nathan McBeth comes back after recovering from a concussion sustained against Stormers and Murphy Walker drops out. There is also a return for Duncan Weir who will provide cover at stand-off in place of Edinburgh-bound Ross Thompson. Weir played a big role off the bench in last month’s league match against the Bulls, helping Glasgow produce a stirring comeback to secure two bonus points. Weir’s experience and ability to find more distance than regular kicker George Horne were also factors in his selection. It could be important late on should Glasgow be presented with a long-range penalty or drop-goal chance.

Glasgow Warriors boss Franco Smith is back on home soil.Glasgow Warriors boss Franco Smith is back on home soil.
Glasgow Warriors boss Franco Smith is back on home soil.

“The ball flies a little bit further over here and he has the ability to kick from a bit further out,” explained Smith. “Against Munster we declined a couple of opportunities because of a little bit of wind in our faces. George’s range is just up to a certain point whereas Duncan has a little bit more distance so that’s one part of it. He also contributes immensely off the field and his experience counts in his favour.”

The match will see Oli Kebble and George Turner play their final match for Glasgow before moving to pastures new. Both have been outstanding servants to the club and Smith hopes they use the occasion to cement their legacy “But I think the rest of the team is also going to have to step up and send them off in the proper way,” he said. “There is emotion in that and hopefully it will all channel into what needs to be done.”

Glasgow have not won in South Africa since they beat the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in 2018 and have lost all six URC league games they’ve played there across the last three seasons. Smith has already shown he is capable of drawing special things from this talented group but a win on Saturday would be his greatest achievement.

Vodacom Bulls v Glasgow Warriors: BKT URC Grand Final, Loftus Versfeld, Saturday, 5pm BST.

Vodacom Bulls: Devon Williams; Sergeal Petersen, David Kriel, Harold Vorster, Kurt-Lee Arendse; Johan Goosen, Embrose Papier; Gerhard Steenekamp, Johan Grobbelaar, Wilco Louw, Ruan Vermaak, Ruan Nortje (capt), Marco Van Staden, Elrigh Louw, Cameron Hanekom. Replacements: Akker van der Merwe, Simphiwe Matanzima, Francois Klopper, Reinhardt Ludwig, Nizaam Carr, Zak Burger, Chris Smith, Cornel Smit.

Glasgow Warriors: Josh McKay; Sebastian Cancelliere, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Kyle Steyn (capt); Tom Jordan, George Horne; Jamie Bhatti, Johnny Matthews, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Richie Gray, Matt Fagerson, Rory Darge, Jack Dempsey. Replacements: George Turner, Nathan McBeth, Oli Kebble, Max Williamson, Euan Ferrie, Henco Venter, Jamie Dobie, Duncan Weir.

Referee: Andrea Piardi (FIR).

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