THE big games keep coming thick and fast for Glasgow Warriors. Fresh from their European Challenge Cup round of 16 win in Newcastle on Friday night, the squad flew out to South Africa yesterday afternoon and will arrive at Stellenbosch University, their base for the next fortnight, at lunchtime today. They are looking to become the first European team in United Rugby Championship history to win back-to-back matches in the southern hemisphere. 

First up for the men from the west of Scotland is the Stormers in Cape Town on Friday night, followed by the Bulls in Pretoria seven days later. Warriors currently sit third in the URC table and two victories in South Africa would almost certainly secure a top four finish, which means a home draw in the end of season play-offs. Even a 50 percent win return from these two games should be enough to achieve that goal.  

Edinburgh are the only European team so far to have tasted success in South Africa since the launch of the URC at the start of this season, when they beat the Sharks in monsoon conditions last month, so Glasgow know they are going to have their work cut-out. 

“Both teams [the Stormers and the Bulls] are very good sides and have been going well post-Christmas,” acknowledged defence coach Pete Murchie. “All the South African teams are picking up results at the moment so it’s going to be a big test for us. We’re going into the business end of the season now so it’s time that we get to work.” 

“It’s an unbelievable opportunity for us to get tight as a group,” he added.

“It’s quite unique for a club team to get to go away together for two weeks. So, we’ll focus on the rugby, but we’ll also look at connections off the pitch and getting as tight as possible for the run-in. We want to enjoy the experience of being away and we want to have a holistic approach to it.” 

A squad of 32 players have made the trip South Africa, but Argentinean winger Sebastian Cancelliere and Scotland international second-row Scott Cummings have been left back in Glasgow after they both picked up knee injuries against Newcastle. 

“Sebastian completed the game but it [his knee] is getting assessed now so he’s not in the touring party,” explained Murchie. “Hopefully, it’s a minor one and won’t rule him out for too long because he’s been excellent for us. With my defence hat on he’s been unbelievable. Hopefully it’s just a couple of weeks or even shorter than that.” 

“Scott is similar in that he has to go through the protocols and find out what the damage is. Unfortunately for Scott he’s had a few injuries this season and it’s tough for him as he gets himself into good form then has another setback. But that’s just part of the game and hopefully it’s shorter rather than longer and both of them can play a big part in the run-in as we have big games ahead of us.” 

20-year-old academy prospect Max Williamson has been called up to the squad in Cummings’ place, and Murchie stressed that he is not just there just to make up the numbers. 

“Max is a player who has been in the environment for quite a long time in terms of training,” said the coach. “He played for the Scotland under-20s in the recent Six Nations so it’s a good opportunity for him to come into the group and he’ll be ready. He’s one of many players we see with a bright future so it’s good that we can spend two weeks with him. He’ll learn from it but he’s there to be ready to play as well.” 

No sooner will the Glasgow squad arrive back from South Africa than most of them will be packing their bags again, with a trip to France for the Challenge Cup quarter-final clash against Lyon the following weekend [kick-off day and time still to be confirmed]. 

Their away from has been patchy this season, but Murchie says last Friday’s win over Newcastle was a timely confidence boost at the start of this demanding stretch of big matches on the road. 

“It wasn’t the first one we’ve won away from home this season, but it would be right to say we’ve wanted to improve our away form, and the Newcastle game was a great opportunity to lay down a marker,” he said. “It’s something we’re continually trying to push on and what better challenge than going away to South Africa for these two games? It’s about us trying to rise to the challenge. If we want to achieve the things, we want to achieve then we have to be able to win away from home and that’s what we’ll be trying to do.” 

Glasgow Warriors squad in South Africa: 

Forwards: Simon Berghan, Jamie Bhatti, Fraser Brown, Rory Darge, Jack Dempsey, Zander Fagerson, Tom Gordon, Richie Gray, Rob Harley, Oli Kebble, Johnny Matthews, Nathan McBeth, Kiran McDonald, Ally Miller, George Turner, Murphy Walker, Max Williamson, Ryan Wilson. 

Backs: Jamie Dobie, Robbie Fergusson, Cole Forbes, Sam Johnson, Sean Kennedy, Stafford McDowall, Josh McKay, Domingo Miotti, Ali Price, Ollie Smith, Kyle Steyn, Ross Thomson, Sione Tuipulotu, Duncan Weir.