Why it falls on Glasgow Warriors to rescue a disappointing season for Scottish men’s rugby

Captain Kyle Steyn returns and George Turner on bench for URC quarter-final

The season is nearing its end and it’s not been a vintage one for Scottish men’s rugby.

Beginning with elimination at the pool stage of the World Cup and continuing with a disappointing Six Nations which saw Scotland lose to Italy for the first time in nine years, the progress of the national side has stalled.

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Edinburgh’s faltering finish to the United Rugby Championship hasn’t provided solace and it has been left to Franco Smith and Glasgow Warriors to salvage something from the campaign.

Glasgow Warriors captain Kyle Steyn has recovered from a knee infection and will lead the side against the Stormers in the BKT URC quarter-final. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)Glasgow Warriors captain Kyle Steyn has recovered from a knee infection and will lead the side against the Stormers in the BKT URC quarter-final. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Glasgow Warriors captain Kyle Steyn has recovered from a knee infection and will lead the side against the Stormers in the BKT URC quarter-final. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

Their quarter-final against the Stormers at Scotstoun on Saturday evening is arguably the pick of the URC play-off matches because it looks like the hardest to call. Glasgow have not lost a league match at home since Smith took over two years ago, winning 18 on the bounce. But their South African opponents have been the stand-out side in the competition, winning the inaugural URC in 2022 then losing, surprisingly, in the final at home to Munster last year.

They are a team that is used to winning at knockout rugby, keeping their cool in pressure situations. It is a quality Smith is striving to instil in his Glasgow squad and something he recognises as a failing in the Scottish game.

Asked how important it was for the Warriors to prove they can handle these big-game occasions, he offered an insight into the work going to to make them durable.

“I’m uncomfortable with the word ‘proving’, because that puts more pressure on us. We don’t have to prove anything,” Smith said. “I’d rather see it as an opportunity for us to show that we can make that next step, we have the right edge and can develop into becoming big-game winners.

“A lot has been said down the years about Scottish teams just not getting big games done. We’re not going to shy away from the fact that it was the elephant in the room. We spoke about it, we’ve got a strategy and a plan and I hope sincerely that from an emotional-intelligence perspective we are clever enough this week to not get dragged into things that we can’t control, and concentrate on how we can achieve this through action rather than through wishing.”

The theme of the week for Glasgow has been staying calm in the big moments. A lot of progress was made last season, their first under Smith, but they were found wanting when it mattered most. They lost narrowly at Scotstoun to Munster in the URC quarter-finals and then were soundly beaten by Toulon in the EPCR Challenge Cup final in Dublin.

The coach believes they have learned from the Munster defeat. “We took a lot of lessons from that game and also inspiration,” he said. “There are things we have done differently in our approach this time. The occasion is a bit different to last year for us so hopefully there will be a little bit more calmness around what needs to be done.”

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A nervousness seemed to overcome them at the Aviva in the European final and the hope is that this will not be a problem on Saturday. Home advantage will help, although it didn’t in the corresponding fixture last season. For all that their league record at Scotstoun under Smith is unimpeachable, they did lose at home to Northampton Saints in the Champions Cup this season as well as the Munster quarter-final last year.

The coach has consequently tried to free the players of the pressure burden that inevitably comes with big occasions.

“The guys want to not let people down,” said Smith. “From that perspective that’s an extremely good ingredient to have in your environment but it can also hinder performance if the guys are concerned about not disappointing or not being disappointed. So there was a lot of work going into this mindset this week.”

Smith has been able to select what is virtually a first-choice team and has made five changes to the side that beat Zebre last week. The captain, Kyle Steyn, has recovered from a knee infection and takes his place on the wing in place of Facundo Cordero. Josh McKay also returns at full-back which means there is no place in the 23 for Kyle Rowe who can consider himself extremely unlucky. Glasgow’s first-choice halfbacks, George Horne and Tom Jordan, come in to replace Jamie Dobie and Duncan Weir, and there is one change in the pack where Scott Cummings starts in the second row ahead of Max Williamson.

The Warriors are further boosted by the availability of George Turner who is on the bench and in line to play for the first time since the Six Nations following a foot injury. If he gets on it will be his 100th match for Glasgow and very possibly his last at Scotstoun. The same applies to Oli Kebble and Ross Thompson, fellow replacements who, like Turner, are leaving the club in the summer.

Glasgow have already beaten the Stormers at Scotstoun in the league this season and they also did so last season but Smith says those games have “absolutely no relevance from our perspective”.

“This is a completely different game in a different part of the season,” he said. “It’s also knockout rugby so it’s a completely different setting.”

He did concede, however, that the Stormers would have had “a difficult travel week”.

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The weather, the artificial pitch and a noisy home support all favour Glasgow and, for what it’s worth, the URC supercomputer makes them favourites, giving them a 78 per cent chance of reaching the semi-finals. But a word of caution: the same methodology was applied last week to Edinburgh’s chances of making the top eight and rated the probability as 82 per cent. That prediction turned out to be seriously off kilter but if Glasgow can keep calm and stick to the plan they have enough talent in their ranks to overcome their South African opponents who are missing their influential flanker Evan Roos due to concussion.

Glasgow Warriors v DHL Stormers, BKT URC quarter-final, Scotstoun, Saturday, 7.35pm.

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, Ross Thompson.

DHL Stormers: Warrick Gelant; Suleiman Hartzenberg, Dan du Plessis, Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, Ben Loader; Manie Libbok, Herschel Jantjies; Brok Harris, Joseph Dweba, Frans Malherbe, Salmaan Moerat (CAPT), Ruben van Heerden, Willie Engelbrecht, Ben-Jason Dixon, Hacjivah Dayimani. Replacements: Andre-Hugo Venter, Sti Sithole, Neethling Fouche, Adre Smith, Marcel Theunissen, Connor Evans, Paul de Wet, Jean-Luc du Plessis.

Referee: Chris Busby (IRFU).

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