Lineen On Glasgow

This morning I was fixed with a smile and told “I’m a pretty positive sort of guy.”

Over a plate of biscuits Sean Lineen assured me of Glasgow’s focus and of his renewed passion for the game on the west coast. Last season the Warriors finished in a lowly 11th place and there was talk of the head coach being courted by Aviva Premiership outfit Bath. This time round, though, the former Scotland centre is looking to rebuild and get the best out of a young team.

“We’ve changed how we play. People might not know but we had a period that was like being in a darkened room for a week looking at the coaching group.

“Of course people are going to say “they’ve been there for a while now, maybe it’s time for someone else” but it is how we [the coaches] learn from our mistakes. Last season we had a lot of injuries but you can’t use that as an excuse- we didn’t deal with them very well. I’m not going to let that bother me, but you’ve got to learn and listen as a coach.”

Learning is certainly something that this Glasgow team will have to do. Described to me by a spectator as ‘The Glasgow Babes’ the Firhill side have several youngsters and many guys new to the professional environment.

So when I put it to Lineen that in the opening game against Ulster there were a few rudimentary errors that contributed to the loss and missing a bonus point, despite the levels of weight training and number of conditioning sessions, he was fairly receptive.

“It comes down to experience. It comes down to decisions.

“When you get to professional rugby all guys are fit and strong. We can be fit but so were Ulster so when you get to that stage of the game it is the decision that you make.”

He gave me a specific example. One of Chris Henry’s try from a pick at the back of a 5m attacking scrum. “The decision that all three players made in that instance was a high tackle, and with a scrum that close to the line it is something that they will learn. Chris Fusaro went high, Rory Pitman went high and Troy Nathan went high, but two out of the three there are very young.

“It’s not that they didn’t want to tackle -my God, Chris Fusaro had an outstanding game- it’s just tackle selection.

“With Munster [this week] it is all about another M word: momentum. They are incredibly physical; they know how to get around the field; they put a lot of pressure on the opposition, especially at the contact. I know they had three guys yellow carded last week. Discipline doesn’t seem to worry them that much! It takes a strong referee to continually penalise them when they lie on the ground and make it difficult to get the ball away.

“They’re just very sharp.”

So how do Glasgow overcome the mistakes of the Ulster game and steel the kids for a battle against a physical Munster?

“You’ve got to look at the basics. The basics don’t change and the set-piece is crucial. That’s where the game starts. We had a lineout in the first 10seconds of the game last Friday, 10m from their line, and we didn’t win it. That’s disappointing, but the players are better than that and they’ve worked hard this week. At this point in the season it is all about learning and getting the basics right, and against a team like Munster it doesn’t matter if you’ve got 55 flash moves: if you can’t win the ball, look after the ball and have a platform you are not going to do well.”

At this point Lineen grabbed another custard cream and I found myself agreeing with him. Not with his biscuit selection –I’m more of a Digestive man, myself- but with acceptance of realities. He knows Glasgow need to improve, both on the Ulster game, specifically, and on last season.

Glasgow suffered from being overrun last term and he has looked to address that by having more players capable of playing. Lineen tells me that when you consider that games now have 260 collisions, on average, in it there must be a greater degree of squad management.

Kids like Stuart Hogg and Chris Fusaro have been brought into play more, to harden them. Newcomers to pro rugby like Scott Wight, Gordon Reid and Nick Campbell have been given a chance to play. Experienced players like Nathan Seymour and new signing Rob Verbakel (who I am assured has a one-year contract, a Dutch passport and an athletic game) have been brought in to augment Lineen’s squad.

Now all they need is consistency and a sense of the bigger picture.

“It is not just game on game that you have assurances,” he reveals me. “Players have goals set in pre-season. You look at how we want to play and that doesn’t change. It’s more to do with, “OK. Now we’re playing Munster. It is all about us: it is not what they do but what we do.” That is what you need with a group that is coming together. Particularly a young group.”

This Friday at Firhill the Warriors fans will hope to see the first win of the season. They will hope that players like Dewey, Fusaro and Hogg continue to progress nicely. They will hope that their team believe.

And how has a laid back Lineen (who by this point seems to be strongly suppressing the urge to say something a little stronger than Gosh or My God!) managed to rejuvenate and reenergise himself?

“Two years ago we came together and finished third in the league, making the playoffs which was brilliant, and even the year before we were fifth so there were a couple of good years there that we were building towards. Then we lost it.

“If you look at the Scotland squad out in New Zealand there are 17 guys that were with Glasgow in the last four years and we’ve lost eight players. It is how we look at the new players and guys like Duncan Weir, Ryan Wilson, Pat MacArthur, an impressive Peter Horne and Chris Fusaro and Stuart Hogg. Young lads to get excited about.  

“I love Scottish rugby. It would be difficult if it was the same group, but it’s changing every year. There’s another batch coming through and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Here’s the Glasgow Warriors team to face Munster this Friday at Firhill (kick-off 7.30):

15 Stuart Hogg

14 Federico Aramburu
13 Rob Dewey
12 Troy Nathan
11 Colin Shaw

10 Duncan Weir
9 Henry Pyrgos

1 Ryan Grant
2 Pat MacArthur
3 Mike Cusack
4 Tom Ryder
5 Nick Campbell
6 Rob Harley (captain)
7 Chris Fusaro
8 Ryan Wilson

SUBSTITUTES

16 Finlay Gillies
17 Ed Kalman
18 Gordon Reid
19 James Eddie
20 Rory Pitman
21 Colin Gregor
22 Scott Wight
23 Peter Horne

Not considered due to injury: Johnnie Beattie (knee), Alex Dunbar (knee), Calum Forrester (knee), Dave McCall (hand), Peter Murchie (shoulder), Tommy Seymour (back), Fergus Thomson (shoulder), Jon Welsh (ankle).

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Dundonian Alan has played rugby all over the world for various teams including Dundee High School, Heriot's and the Scottish Club International. Now writing from London he covers all issues international and unreported.