Glasgow Warriors aim to guard against complacency during the run-in to the Pro14 regular season by treating the games in and around the Six Nations Championship as a mini-league in their own right.
The Warriors went badly off the boil this time last year after having a home play-off semi-final all but guaranteed with months to go. They were then unable to raise their game when it mattered most, against Scarlets in that semi, and the coaching team are determined not to let such a slump recur.
That will be easier in one respect this time round, as the race for the top-three places in Conference A is far closer than it was in 2018, with the Warriors two points behind leaders Munster, and Ospreys, Cardiff, Connacht and the Cheetahs all still in the hunt. But, as assistant coach Kenny Murray explained, nothing is being left to chance.
“We’ve set up a wee league table for this Six Nations window,” he said. “Before Ospreys” – a 9-3 home win at the end of January – “we started with zero points. Now we’ve got four points. So we’re just trying to focus in on the season.
“The context has dramatically changed from last year. Last year we were ahead. If you lose a game it doesn’t really matter, does it? Now, if you lose a game, you’re under real pressure, because you’ve got teams behind you.
“Depending on what way you look at it, it could be a negative thing in terms of you want to be 20 points ahead, but we’re looking at it that you’ve got to perform. If we don’t perform then we’re under real pressure. So it does help motivate guys a wee bit more than maybe it [did] last year.”
That win against Ospreys at Scotstoun was one of the less entertaining outings of the season, to put it mildly, with heavy weather minimising the prospect of running rugby. But, while critical of aspects of his squad’s performance, Murray was satisfied, nevertheless, with the outcome.
“It was a tough game – I reckon we’ve played probably better and lost at times over the last couple of years. It was pretty frustrating. We decided to play against the wind and we felt we could turn round and win the game, but we probably just weren’t clinical enough in the second half. We got ourselves in good positions and just weren’t clinical enough. We know we need to be better. No excuses.
“The key thing for us was the four points. We needed the four points. It was one of these eight-pointer games where, if we’d lost that game, Ospreys were right up our tail. They were five points behind us so we’re now eight points ahead of them. So the points were the most important thing for us.”
Four or five points will be just as important on Saturday when Glasgow are away to Cardiff Blues, and with Connacht coming to Scotstoun the following Friday, Murray knows his team could gain vital ground on two of their play-off rivals.
“It’s crucial now, isn’t it? Cardiff and then Connacht – they’re ten [and eight respectively] points behind us now, so if we can knock Cardiff off and go 13 or 14 ahead and then the same with Connacht a week later…
“I think Connacht play Cheetahs this week so you’d expect them to win that. It’s two huge games for us: win them and that helps us stay on Munster’s coat-tails. We’ve got some hard games coming up towards the end of the season, so we need to make sure that we do well in the next few weeks.”
Pete Horne, Rob Harley, Adam Hastings and Ali Price have all been released back to the Warriors from the Scotland camp and could take part against Cardiff, as could new signing Kyle Steyn.
The Glasgow team for that match will be announced tomorrow.