Glasgow Warriors are happy with their start to the Guinness PRO12 season but “need to see a reaction” to last week’s loss at Cardiff when Ulster come to Scotstoun on Friday, says assistant coach Mike Blair.
The Warriors have 11 points from their tough opening first three games against the champions Connacht, runner-up Leinster and the improving Blues, which amounts to just one point short of three wins, points out Blair.
Ulster are one of three teams with three wins from three but haven’t played one of the real contenders yet, and their record at Scotstoun is not great with just one win– on European Cup business – since the Warriors moved there.
“We’ve got a bit of history against Ulster here, they’ve never won here in the league and that’s a proud record for us against a strong team, but it’s also something that will motivate them,” he said.
“They’re a different proposition to what we’ve played so far. We’ve 11 points from three pretty tough opening fixtures and we take a lot from that. 11 points from three games pretty much equates to three victories.
“But we were disappointed not to get the win in Cardiff. We don’t like losing and we need to see a reaction on Friday.”
Ulster have shown plenty of flair in their opening matches with Charles Piutau in sparkling form, but threats come across the park, added Blair.
“They caused us issues the last time we played them here, they put a lot of effort and numbers into the breakdown. Piutau has been outstanding since the start of the season so we have to keep an eye on him, Paddy Jackson after his series with Ireland in South Africa is full of confidence.”
However the “heart of the team” is scrum-half Ruan Pienaar, and Blair is as surprised as anyone that the Springbok is being allowed to leave Ulster at the end of the season by a directive from the IRFU.
“He has been the heartbeat of their team for four or five seasons. He’s very composed, he kicks his goals, manages games.
“He has been a big part of what Ulster has been strong at for a while, whether it is the goal-kicking, kicking from hand, organising his forwards, reading the game and he does all that very well.
“He is in the top rank of players I have seen and played against and that amounts to a lot of good nines down the years.”
Glasgow suffered more injury problems in the back row in Cardiff with Josh Strauss playing just one half and prop Alex Allan was pressed into service there, but it means opportunities for the youngsters coming through, points out Blair.
“Guys like Lewis Wynne and Matt Fagerson will get opportunities this season; Lewis came on for Josh on Friday and had an incredible involvement.
“We have a stat we use of “actions per minutes” and Lewis was up to 1.2 for the time he was on, that’s the kind of figure you expect from a scrum-half having a busy game.
“He is clearly contributing a lot in carrying and rucking. Matt played against Canada A and he seems like a mid-20s player who has been in the gym for ten years rather than an 18-year-old.
“He’s a phenomenal athlete and while it’s not ideal to push these guys in so early they’ve got incredible talent.”