Bulls-bound Glasgow on the horns of a dilemma

Free-running visitors may have to yield to pragmatism

10 May 2024 - 15:00
By Liam Del Carme
Franco Smith, the Glasgow Warriors head coach, has been plotting his team's visit to Loftus for a long time.
Image: David Rogers (Getty Images) Franco Smith, the Glasgow Warriors head coach, has been plotting his team's visit to Loftus for a long time.

He admits it is a teasing question but wily Glasgow Warriors coach Franco Smith isn't about to reveal whether his free-running team will yield to pragmatism when they confront the Bulls and the demands that come with playing at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

Smith's team will run out as United Rugby Championship (URC) log leaders but the match-day methodology that got them there will be presented some distinct challenges at a ground that demands adaptation and rolling with the punches.

The former Bok midfielder was coy about whether the Warriors will drift from script.

“That is the big question. Do you have to?” he asked rhetorically.

His team will face hosts that often stampede, a hostile crowd, suffocating heat and rarefied highveld air.

“I will leave that question. I have to do what works for my team. We've won a lot of matches this year,” said Smith, perhaps suggesting the Warriors might stick to the guns that have fired for them.

It's not as if they find change hard to embrace.

“Against Benetton we had to play differently because it was wet and we had three hookers and three scrumhalves in the team. The question now is whether we should adjust the way we play so close to the end [of the URC season].

“I've thought about this for a long time and we have spoken about this. We'll have to strike a balance. We will leave people wondering.”

Smith noted how defending champions Munster, in achieving the Gauteng double by winning at Loftus and Ellis Park, had to deviate from their championship winning formula.

His team also has back-to-back appointments on the highveld.

Smith isn't about to blindly follow what Munster did. The defending champions opted to base themselves at the coast before trekking north on the eve of their games against the Bulls and the Lions. It paid handsome dividends.

Italy's former head coach opted to set up camp in faux Tuscan ambience at a well-known leisure and gambling precinct north of Johannesburg.

Smith said he wants to challenge his players.

“The highveld is the best place to train,” he noted.

“There is a reason some of the best athletes come here to train and prepare for the Olympic Games. They want to be challenged. The Bulls, Lions and Cheetahs have that advantage. I want to use this opportunity to challenge my players.”

As important as the result at Loftus is, Smith was loath to overstate its significance in the bigger scheme of things.

“When I got the calendar in April last year I knew this was going to be an important game. It is already big for us because we want to show we can perform well on any continent.

“It's not about only playing well at home. We have planned this for a while.

“It doesn't matter what happens in the result. This game is just before the play-offs, in heat, at altitude and that will make us a better team because of the high-pressure situation.

“We will try to put our best product forward with the idea of taking that forward. To win is important but there are other puzzle pieces that need to fall into place in the next two weeks that are important to us.”