Setting aside the players brought in on short-term contracts there are 13 new faces in the Warriors main squad this season – a sort of Dirty Baker’s Dozen if you like. There are a few key themes that unite some of these disparate players, recruited from all around the world, and these may give some hints as to the thinking behind Gregor Townsend’s signing policies.
Size / power
Gregor has often talked about the team and coaches learning more from defeats than they have from victories. Over the past couple of years there have been some crucial reverses in European competition that have helped to shape Toony’s thinking around recruitment and the development of the squad, in particular:
- Toulon at home
- Toulouse away
- Toulouse at home
The key to these matches was the sheer physicality that the French sides brought to their game, in part at the setpiece but mainly around the tackle area and breakdown. Glasgow were able to dominate possession but the Top 14 sides were content to sit in and soak up the pressure, confident that their aggressive defence would prevent the continuity and fluidity that Glasgow have thrived on in recent years.
To counter this Gregor has recruited players who are bigger and more powerful to augment the existing squad.
- At 122kg (19st 3lbs in old money) Sila Puafisi is not the largest prop we have – that honour (?) falls to Mike Cusack. Big Mike is a setpiece specialist though whereas Sila will be expected to use his extra size in the loose in attack and defence.
- Greg Peterson is the tallest and heaviest lock Glasgow have had since Richie Gray left. His heft is an advantage at scrum time but probably a slight disadvantage in the lineout where he’s close to being to big to lift effectively (ie quickly enough). Again though the coaches will be more concerned with using him to clog up the fringes around rucks and also get across the gain line and push defences onto the back foot when the Warriors are in possession.
- Simone Favaro may appear diminutive by comparison to his tight 5 colleagues, but at 103kg he’s comfortably the biggest 7 we have and a good 8 kilos heavier than the man who has filled the openside slot most frequently in recent seasons, Chris Fusaro.
- Grayson Hart is, quite simply, a bit of a giant by scrum half standards. He stands 3 inches taller and weighs in a massive 16 kilos more than Glasgow’s number 1 number 9, Henry Pyrgos. If there’s an arm wrestle going on he’s there to provide extra physicality and play almost as an auxiliary back row in a role perfected (depending on your viewpoint) by Mike Phillips for Ospreys and Wales.
- Sam Johnson will not be the biggest guy in the squad but physically he looks like the closest back up we will have for Alex Dunbar. Alex is the foil at 12 or 13 for the much lighter weight Mark Bennett and Peter Horne, although of course he’s not some one-dimensional bosher (and judging by his youtube clips, neither is Sam), but he does give the side an outlet in terms of go forward ball when the midfield is congested.
- Taqele Naiyarovoro is a monster. The kind of player we’ve never seen before in a Warriors jersey, he’s heavier than anyone in the squad bar Mike Cusack but plies his trade on the wing where he can terrorise players who may be more than 30 kilos lighter. Once Glasgow are at firing on all cylinders it will be difficult for opponents to send multiple tacklers to cover Taqele – to do so will be to risk leaving holes for the likes of Rusell, Bennett etc. to pick at. But leaving wingers isolated one on one with such a behemoth is also risky. Glasgow should also be looking to bring Mr T through onto inside balls, again creating space to exploit for the other backs.
With New Zealand and Australia contesting the RWC final and setting the tone for the type of game that should be played in order to be successful, it’s gratifying to see that Gregor Townsend has been ahead of the curve in anticipating this. The additions to his squad have a strong Southern Hemisphere influence with:
All learning their rugby playing trade in either NZ or Oz. In addition academy player Nick Grigg has been recruited directly from Kiwi club Petone and Calum Hunter-Hill spent 4 months in the land of the long white cloud learning valuable lessons on the Macphail Scholarship. In fact Calum is one of 6 players in the present squad who’ve had this priceless experience, joining Kevin Bryce, Adam Ashe, Jonny Gray, Gregor Hunter and Finn Russell on the list of recent graduates. Among the coaching staff, Kenny Murray also recently spent time in New Zealand as part of the Macphail programme; defensive coach Matt Taylor is an Australian who previously worked in Super Rugby; and in his amateur days the head coach himself spent a couple of summers playing for Warringah Rugby Club in Sydney.
Another theme that runs through Toony’s key signings is that the majority of them (especially the ones signed with this, rather than future seasons in mind) have already been capped.
This indicates that the level of player Glasgow are having to bring in to improve the squad is getting higher and higher. It also points to the players themselves being that little bit more experienced. There’s still an opportunity to polish many of them up and get more out of them than their previous clubs (Glasgow are not in the position yet where they can afford the market for the absolute finished product) but the serious development work will mainly be focused on the young Scottish talent coming through. The signings from outwith the Warriors system will be expected to more or less hit the ground running and provide a good example to their younger and less experienced colleagues.
On Top Of The Moon has also previously looked at the players that took Glasgow through the RWC period, both the backs and the forwards. Tomorrow we’ll look at the squad in its entirety as we consider the overall depth chart and what it means for the Warriors this season.