Rennie’s men aim to have Cheetahs on run
We are ready for the physical challenge. We just take it as it comes, attack the belly of the beast
SIX weeks into the new-look Guinness PRO14 and at last a Scottish side gets to step into the unknown perils of the Cheetahs’ den. Italian, Irish and Welsh teams have already gone there and come away beaten – can Glasgow Warriors become the first northern hemisphere club to win in Bloemfontein?
Fortunately, they have some inside knowledge of what to expect in South Africa. Scotstoun head coach Dave Rennie used to go there regularly with the Chiefs, his former province, for Super Rugby fixtures and equally regularly came away with wins.
On top of that, Glasgow have a couple of South Africans in the squad who have experienced the Veld.
“It is always good heading up there – it’s a fast pitch. I bet the boys will be excited to get out there and play some running rugby,” was the verdict from one of them, Brandon Thomson, who had come off the bench to kick a late penalty and conversion in Glasgow’s 37- 21 home win over Benetton Treviso on Friday night.
“Everyone speaks about the altitude but the most important thing is to play our own game. We are a very fit team and will back our fitness even at altitude. Control the controllables and focus on what you can take on to the field.
“They are at home in a country that is unfamiliar to us. They will back themselves to run, they have a very fast back line – great pace, great feet – and strong forwards. We will need to be prepared. They have a big pack but, as the Glasgow boys have shown in the last couple of weeks, we are ready for the physical challenge. We just take it as it comes, attack the belly of the beast.
“I will back our momentum against theirs, but it is important to keep our heads down, to keep grafting and working hard. It will not be easy, but the boys are ready.”
Graft, especially in defence, is probably the key. The Cheetahs will come at Glasgow with all the ferocity they can muster, aiming not just to use their big, hard pack but also to bring two of the best attacking wings in South Africa – Raymond Rhule and Makazole Mapimpi – into the game.
That was certainly the formula that overcame Zebre in a high-scoring clash, before the Cheetahs also conquered Leinster and the Ospreys, claiming, it should be noted, a scoring bonus point in each of those games. Before Munster played yesterday they were second in the conference they share with Glasgow. Even more impressively, they have managed that while also fielding a team to compete in the Currie Cup – they were last season’s winners – where they are currently second.
However, Glasgow go into Friday’s clash having made a 100 per cent winning start to the season, with three of their five victories coming with try bonus points.
The Cheetahs are unbeaten at home, but began life in the PRO14 with two heavy away defeats.
Thomson admits that potentially heading back to South Africa is a strange feeling – the Glasgow squad for the trip had not yet been announced – only a couple of months after he left Cape Town and the Stormers for Scotland.
“I thought I would go and visit after a while, but not this soon. It would be good to get there and play some footie,” he said. “If I am fortunate enough to travel, then my family will be there, my mother will be there to see me. I am missing the guys back home but loving it over here.”
Judging by the crowds, there is still something of a sales job to be done for the PRO14 in South Africa, but Thomson is certain the fans will come.
“South Africa, traditionally, is a rugbyloving country,” he said. “Wherever there is rugby they will love it. This is something new – new teams, new players – so they are excited to have some of our teams coming to Europe and to have a front-row seat to watch the northern hemisphere playing.
“I have numerous friends at the Cheetahs and the Kings. They say they are enjoying it. It is a new experience for most of them; they get to travel and see the northern hemisphere. It is a different style of rugby, so they have had to adjust to that.
“At the end of the day, though, rugby is rugby. There is maybe a small tweak here and there as to how our teams play – structures and that. At the end of the day, though, you know the game plan – stick to it and make sure the boys work hard for each other.”
Glasgow are being careful about this game. Having rested many of their international players on Friday, they have everyone available and can take a strong squad. They are travelling today to make sure they have enough time to acclimatise to the altitude before the game.
It is a step into the unknown for the players but with a run of form behind them in addition to having fitness trainers and coaches who have done all this before and know how to prepare them, they have every reason to feel confident they can achieve what the other countries in the PRO14 have failed to manage – to get a win.