With 21 players absent on RWC duty, September and October were always going to be tough months for the Warriors. Short-term contracts and young talent supplementing some experienced older heads were the order of the day. But has what’s been achieved by those left behind been enough to keep the club in the hunt for the playoffs?
In 2011 the Glasgow squad only had to cope with 9 absentees during that year’s edition of the tournament in New Zealand but the difference between the start to the season and post-RWC was stark. The depleted group collected 47% of the points available in the 6 matches played prior to the internationals returning. 3 defeats in 6 was followed by just 2 in 16 (plus no less than 4 draws!) once the team was returned to full strength, gathering 64% of the points on offer.
Another two of that season’s playoff teams followed a similar pattern with Leinster and Munster also collecting points far more efficiently once their Test stars had returned. The exception that year were the Ospreys who made a flying start to the campaign but could not sustain that level across the full term.
Of the teams that have made flying starts this season, Munster only have 5 players to welcome back from the RWC (1 of whom is injured), Scarlets have 6 (2 injured), Edinburgh have 8 returning and Connacht just 2. Munster have some key decision makers and game breakers coming back, although the loss of POM will hurt them, and they look a strong prospect for a home semi final. Scarlets will do well to maintain their fine start to the season and getting games against both the most depleted squads in the Pro 12 (Glasgow and Leinster) has worked well for them – they will still expect be in the hunt for the playoffs come the end of the campaign.
Edinburgh have significant numbers returning but given that most of them are forwards and their strength in depth in the pack is enviable the boost this will give them will be smaller than might be expected. They need to add some more guile in the backs if they are to stay in the hunt for a top 4 place. Leinster (17 players returning from RWC, excluding late injury replacements) and Ospreys (9 returnees) will be looking to climb the table once they are back to full strength. So it looks like there may well be 7 teams in the hunt for the playoffs and probably only one home semi slot available behind Munster.
This season’s 12 points from 5 games (44% of those available) is just 4 less than Glasgow gathered from the same 5 fixtures last year. The start to the campaign leaves the Warriors needing to collect 57 points from the remaining fixtures to hit the average required for a playoff spot from the last post-RWC season. That equates to 67% of the available points. The percentage of points Glasgow have collected over the past 3 years? 70%. It’s certainly within their capabilities. The question for the next stage of the season will be how much effect the squad remodelling has had. How will the success of the team be influenced by the departures of Big Al, Dougie, Welshy, Niko, Sean M and of course DTH? How will the key new signings like Taqele Naiyarovoro and Simone Favaro fit in? And crucially how much better is the core of the squad as they move closer to the peak years of their careers?
These questions will only begin to be answered once Glasgow get close to their full strength squad but it may still be a while before that happens. Rest periods for the internationals are likely to be staggered, so although in theory everyone should be available in time for the game on Sunday 1st November at Scotstoun against the Ospreys (an absolutely crucial encounter given that it’s against a direct rival for a playoff slot) there is still likely to be some rotation within the squad to allow players an appropriate break. This season more than ever will test the way Gregor Townsend uses his troops to maximise the opportunities for Glasgow to be successful and challenge for the title once again.