A conundrum that has proven beyond all away semi finalists in the Pro12 up to this point. As one of the strongest clubs in terms of squad depth, Glasgow have their shot at history on Saturday, but what are the keys to reversing last weekends result at the Sportsground?
We have spent all season harping on about this from Glasgow. Keeping 15 on the park is vital and reducing the potential impact of Marius Mitrea will go a long way to securing the win. With the weather forecast looking grim once again, whoever wins the penalty count will be the most likely winner of the tie. Glasgow are third in the league for giving away yellow cards and Connacht are supremely confident in their systems defensively as they smothered a 14-man Warriors team 2 weekends ago. A repeat of Puafisi’s moment of madness cannot happen, as it will be tough enough to prise the final spot from Connacht’s grasp with 15 men. Which leads us nicely onto…
2. Taking Our Points
Whoever is handed the goal kicking duties for Glasgow this weekend, whether Finn Russell, Duncan Weir, Pete Horne or even Stuart Hogg, must be accurate. As the Champions Cup final showed us last weekend, in knock-out rugby, goalkickers are often the difference between teams and Glasgow have had off days this season from the tee. This cannot happen this weekend. In the last game Finn left enough points out there to make it a match winnable with a penalty or drop rather than the converted try Glasgow were chasing at the end, and his percentage over the last two games sits at just 54%.
3 – That Rush Defence
Connacht’s line speed last week was outrageous, with tacklers flying up and instantly shutting the ball down, often way behind the gain line. The question of offside has been posed by a few Scotstoun fans – I’m sure Mitrea will be paying attention – but I think Glasgow have to think smart to prevent constantly going backwards, which only encourages the home fans and builds their momentum. The 10 will again be key here, and if we can figure out how to get the ball past the initial blitz, there should be space aplenty for Hogg et al out wide to run into. So Russell or Horne’s crisp passing could be the key. Or maybe we just go with Weir, kick the ball to the corners and play the territory?
4 – The Stars Need to Shine
Glasgow are the better squad on paper, with few exceptions, from 1-23, but the Scotstoun men need to turn up as you wouldn’t have known it last time out. Too many players had average to poor games, helped along of course by strong Connacht performances. The skill sets and work rate of Nakarawa, Gray and Hogg could (and should) be the difference in a tight game, but the rest need to win their individual battles to see Glasgow victorious; Pat Lam is sure to have strategies to close down the big guns so the little guns need to make sure they have plenty of ammo with them. Sharp games from Pete Horne, Mark Bennett and whoever is picked at 9 from Hart, Pyrgos or Price could go a long way to securing a win.
5 – The Uncontrollables
So much of this weekend’s outcome will come down to which side can master the elements. Both sides like to play good rugby, but the weather could well rule that out and the team that can adjust best to the grind will most likely triumph. Last week would suggest that Connacht have the upper hand here, but Glasgow will know what is coming and should now have a gameplan to suit. Nothing can be done about the weather, but it would also be nice if the referee does not have too much influence on either team’s fortunes. Connacht’s scrum should be strengthened with a number of props returning from injury and young Fagerson will have a lot on his shoulders.
My prediction – Another nailbiter of a semifinal for Glasgow, but a narrow win to make history and rock up at BT Murrayfield for their 3rd final in a row.
Additional reporting: RB
Here’s the team to face Connacht on Saturday night (kick-off 6.30pm, live on Sky Sports 1 & BBC Two Scotland):
15. Stuart Hogg, 14. Tommy Seymour, 13. Mark Bennett, 12. Peter Horne, 11. Sean Lamont, 10. Finn Russell, 9. Henry Pyrgos; 1. Gordon Reid, 2. Fraser Brown, 3. Zander Fagerson, 4. Leone Nakarawa, 5. Jonny Gray (Captain), 6. Ryan Wilson, 7. Simone Favaro, 8. Josh Strauss
Replacements: 16. Pat MacArthur, 17. Ryan Grant, 18. D’arcy Rae, 19. Tim Swinson, 20. Adam Ashe, 21. Grayson Hart, 22. Duncan Weir, 23. Taqele Naiyaravoro
Not available due to injury: Alex Allan (concussion), Kevin Bryce (knee), Junior Bulumakau (foot), Rory Clegg (ankle), Alex Dunbar (knee), Jarrod Firth (concussion), Tyrone Holmes (foot), Sam Johnson (hamstring), Fergus Scott (shoulder) and Richie Vernon (shoulder).