DTH van der Merwe and Stuart Hogg shared the backfield for Glasgow scores of times over nine years, so they have a fair idea of how to wind each other up now they’ll be on differing sides next week.
The realisation that Hoggy is no longer a Warrior will come into full focus next week when Glasgow head to Sandy Park to take on Exeter Chiefs, the Scotland and Lions full-back’s new club. Both clubs opened their Heineken Champions Cup campaign with wins at the weekend, and the Canadian veteran who took many a scoring pass from his old friend over the years can’t wait to lock horns.
“It is funny, it is like playing Byron [McGuigan] today,” said van der Merwe after the Warriors’ 13-7 win over Sale Sharks, for whom the South African-born ex-Warrior and Scotland wing plays. “You want to have the opportunity to play against them, and if you get to tackle them or have a run and get tackled against them, you can have a little chat on the floor.
“Byron was losing it a bit at half time I tapped him on the back and asked him ‘why are you so angry’ in Afrikaans. I know that will just have infuriated him a bit more.
“It’ll be the same with Hoggy, maybe give him a pinch on the floor or something like that – or tease him about his hair. It’s still a mess!”
He’s noted that Hogg has started well at Exeter, and doesn’t agree with the full-back’s own assessment that he had has had a tough last 18 months with the Warriors and Scotland.
“No, he was quality,” said the wing. “A guy like Stuart Hogg, for Scotland and for Glasgow he is a marked man on the field so teams are trying to take his time and space away from him. It makes it that touch harder to stand out when you are somebody like Stuart Hogg.
“We have to make sure we front up and don’t give him that space. He has that nice little goose step and that line he runs which is dangerous. He has obviously been doing that with Exeter this year because he has lots of metres in just three or four games.”
Van der Merwe knows that allowing Sale a bonus point after Glasgow completely dominated the first 50 minutes at Scotstoun could prove crucial down the line.
“It was definitely a game of two halves, we played very well in the first half,” he said. “They are a very big forward pack and the way they want to play the game is to be dominant up front. We hunted for the ball and kept them out of the game in the first half.
“We maybe took our foot off the gas in the second half, it was a little bit squeaky bum time at the but our defence was really good to only concede that one try.”
With both Hogg and Finn Russell now long gone, Glasgow’s spark of creativity comes from half-back, with the team heavily reliant on Adam Hastings at 10 to dictate the game.
When he’s flying and super-confident, the result is the first half, when he didn’t put a foot wrong and a 20-0 or 27-0 lead would not have flattered the Warriors. But the second half, whether it was Sale putting greater pressure on him or, as head coach Dave Rennie, thought a tactical mis-step trying to play too much rugby from deep, was Hastings’ inconsistency writ large.
He’s just turned 23, so there’s plenty scope to build on his considerable talents. If the clever chip in behind Chris Ashton early in the second half had bounced well van der Merwe would have had a second try and the Warriors would have won much more comfortably.
Hastings is certainly a more rounded 10 after the World Cup, and this is a key season for his development. 20 minutes of iffy rugby isn’t really a problem, and away games in this Heineken Cup pool are going to be a valuable learning process.
Exeter’s bonus point win at La Rochelle later on Saturday has changed the complexion of the pool – the French could be effectively out and largely dis-interested in the tournament if they lose heavily again next week at Sale.
It’s a tall order to win at Exeter, for sure, and it’s a tough pool, but if Glasgow want that home quarter-final then they have to upset the odds at Sandy Park. At the very least, a losing bonus and denying the Chiefs the five pointer is the absolute bottom line.