Even in the straight league PRO12 era scheduling could impact on the success (or otherwise) of the competing teams. With the PRO14 conference setup this can be even more crucial. Time for On Top Of The Moon to take a run through how Glasgow’s fixtures are laid out.
Targets for making the playoffs
- Likely to need a minimum of 65 points in total
- 9 home victories from 11 matches (10/10 last season)
- 5 away wins from 10 games. In order of likelihood – Kings, Zebre, Connacht, Benetton, Cheetahs. (5/11 last season)
- 9 bonus points (14 last season – 12 TBP / 2 LBP)
Phase 1 – season opener to the start of the November Test window
With 3 out of their first 4 fixtures away from home and games against 3 Conference A rivals straight off the bat the Warriors will need to be ready to hit their straps from opening day. Connacht are under new management and will be no mugs – but the Sportsground is one of the top targets for an away win as Glasgow kick off their campaign in Galway for the third season in a row. The following Saturday Munster visit Scotstoun. Given both sides’ ambitions to be conference top dogs matches against the men in red will pretty much count double when it comes down to it at season’s end.
The Warriors’ first South African double header will be a useful couple of weeks to have most of the squad together for an extended period. The Cheetahs are also competing in the Currie Cup Premier Division and have an away fixture in that competition the same day they face Glasgow. The Kings don’t have that direct link but the teams in their province that they have traditionally drawn from will be playing First Division matches in the Currie Cup. The PRO14 is the focus for both of the South African sides but fighting on two fronts may still have an impact.
Heading into the Champions Cup are 2 fixtures that could allow a bit of rotation but which require absolute concentration from whoever does play. Dropping points against Dragons or Zebre at home could necessitate trying to recover those points in places like Dublin or Cork to get back on track so there is little margin for error.
European competition very rarely rewards slow starts so it’s essential the club pick up at least one victory against either Saracens or Cardiff Blues in these first 2 rounds. The mathematics behind qualification for the quarter-finals often boils down to 3 wins at home and picking up 1 out of 3 on the road. Dropping a game on a club’s own turf (as Glasgow did in 2016/17) means winning 2 away from home (which the Warriors managed against Racing 92 and Leicester). It’s a very tough way to do things though…
Glasgow will wrap up their season series against Munster even before Hallowe’en has passed. Usually this would be the last game that the Test players would be available for before the November window but with Scotland playing an extra game down in Wales rest protocols may kick in early. They’ll certainly be in place for another away trip to the Ospreys the following week – although with Scotland just down the road in Cardiff the same weekend there might be room to share some players who are just providing extended cover for the national squad.
PRO14 – minimum 5 wins, 23 points
Europe – minimum 1 win, 4 points
Phase 2 – November Test window to the start of the 6 Nations
Glasgow and Cardiff Blues will go head-to-head at Scotstoun without their internationals with a full programme of Test action happening the same weekend – maybe a chance for some fringe or even Academy players to step up? The following week could see some Scotland and Wales squad players back in action but the top names are still likely to be absent for the PRO14 semi-final rematch with Scarlets as both teams will have one eye on their upcoming Heineken Cup double headers.
The Warriors’ have a poorish record in these December European matches but doing the double over Racing 92 did launch them to the quarter-finals a couple of seasons back. A repeat of that success in this season’s matches against Lyon would give the club a real boost in their quest for qualification for the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup.
Simon Berghan’s red card and the late heroics by his Edinburgh teammates along with the fire alarm at Scotstoun elevated last season’s 1872 Cup first and second legs in the memory, but rather obscured the fact that the actual festive fare was pretty low quality. With both sides fighting at the same end of their respective tables now hopefully the standard can be more suitable for what are showpiece occasions for Scottish rugby.
Benetton away is not an easy prospect after their improvement last season and the Italians know they need to be aiming for 2 or 3 more wins to be in the mix for playoff spots. They will be targeting all their home games for victories. Yet again the Warriors will in all probability tackle the Ospreys with both teams missing their Test stars. This will be the 6th out of the two clubs’ last 7 meetings to be impacted this way.
In between those two PRO14 fixtures Glasgow will wrap up their Pool 3 matches in the Champions Cup. If qualification is still on the table then Cardiff Blues’ second trip of the season to Scotstoun will almost certainly be a must win. It’s highly unlikely that the Warriors will face a Saracens side in Round 6 that has nothing to play for. That being the case Glasgow need to have points in the bank if they are serious about progressing as there will very little quarter given at Allianz Park.
PRO14 – minimum 4 wins, 19 points
Europe – minimum 3 wins, 13 points
Phase 3 – 6 Nations window to the playoffs
Away trips to Cardiff Blues in the league have become increasingly difficult in recent years. After 5 wins in a row at the Arms Park, 2016/17 saw the Warriors’ defeated and only Steve Shingler’s wayward late kick prevented the same fate last season.
The Connacht (H) / Zebre (A) / Cheetahs (H) triple bill presents the kind of matches where points have to be maximised and momentum built if the club are to be true playoff contenders. Bonus points could be crucial so the fact that all 3 of those opponents like to keep the ball alive and play rugby means games will be won by tries rather than kicks.
A tough run-in against the some of Conference B’s strongest sides is where the troops can be battle-hardened and hopefully rising towards playoff intensity. In many ways it might be preferable if things are still competitive at the top of Conference A and every game, every point matters to really get into that no more tomorrows’ mindset. Last year maybe proved that it’s hard to suddenly find that level after a few weeks of fixtures that didn’t really count for anything. The drop-off may be only 1 or 2% but that can be a huge difference against the Leinsters and Scarlets of this world.
The Warriors have a strong home record against Ulster but their new head man (and former Glasgow and Scotland forwards’ coach) Dan McFarland won’t lack for inside information as he returns to Scotstoun! League trips to the RDS in recent years have tended to be close-run affairs. Gregor Townsend took his troops to Dublin 5 times without winning (1 draw, 4 losses) but the average margin between the Warriors and Leinster was just 2.6 points for those fixtures.
The last match of the regular season will be the reinstated home fixture against Edinburgh which will again serve as the 3rd leg of the 1872 Cup. Depending on how soon the rumoured future expansion of the league takes place this may be the last time this setup is in place for the Scottish derbies. Hopefully an expanded Scotstoun will be rocking and boost Glasgow to a win – and into the playoffs!
PRO14 – minimum 5 wins, 23 points