South Africa-born Canadian international wing DTH van der Merwe is enjoying a bit of a renaissance at Scotstoun. After injury problems curtailed him last season, the Warriors’ record try-scorer has bounced back with aplomb as his wing colleagues Sean Maitland, Sean Lamont, Tommy Seymour and Lee Jones have bounced around international duties and treatment tables. A hat-trick against Montpellier takes his tally for the club to 38 and sees him become the second Warrior to bag three in a European game after former colleague Thom Evans achieved the feat against Bath in December 2008. His strong running and ability to make metres after contract has helped the Warriors on several occasions this season and he is no stranger to stepping off his wing to provide an option before bursting through gaps, as he did for his second-half efforts. With the Scotland wing contingent set to be involved in the Six Nations in February and March, van der Merwe is hitting form at the right time and will be pivotal to the Warriors’ Guinness PRO12 push during the coming weeks with the Ospreys set to visit Scotstoun a week before the Warriors travel to Cork to take on Munster at Irish Independent Park.
Jake White admitted he is enjoying the challenge of adapting to French culture and learning a new language, including some choice expletives during the defeat to the Warriors, but the Rugby World Cup-winning coach parachuted in and tasked with turning around the fortunes of the ailing Top 14 club should probably start this week’s analysis session with a video nasty and a lesson on offside. The French side racked up 21 penalties in the course of the game, with 10 of them coming in the first half, and a number for players straying offside, which also led to yellow cards for prop Pat Ciliers and wing Lucas Dupont after they erred in the red zone. Some referees may not always see it, but Luke Pearce is a rising name in English rugby and is pretty sharp around the breakdown. While their focus may be on the Top 14 and players earning contracts for next season, there is a sense that had the French side brought their big-name internationals, including former All Blacks Rene Ranger and Anthony Tuitavake, to Glasgow they could have caused more problems in attack and even sneaked away with a win.
The pre-match talk was about getting the win then going for the bonus point, but somehow that plan appeared to be ripped up once the match started. There is no doubt that the Warriors’ plan was to hit hard and fast early in the game against a much-changed Montpellier side with nothing to play for other than contracts for next season. They did it to devastating effect against Leinster in September and Bath in October, but were woefully far from that when they really needed it this time. Finn Russell’s kicking from hand was far from perfect when going for touch compared to his kicking off the tee, while on numerous occasions when they were deep in Montpellier’s half there was a wilful abandon that produced turnovers. Numerous kickable penalties were spurned for lineouts that ultimately failed to deliver anything. To go in 10-7 down at the break with their opponents down to 14 men was particularly poor. They got nothing from that 10-minute advantage. Saracens showed on Saturday against Munster that scoreboard pressure can open doors, a match the Warriors must not have paid much attention to. Montpellier were there for the taking, but the fact the scoreline was as close at it turned out to be is a damning indictment that the Warriors, for all their success in becoming a force to be reckoned with in the PRO12, are not yet ready to join Europe’s elite.
Fijian scrum-half Niko Matawalu may be the livewire operator that regularly lights up pitches around the Guinness PRO12 with his mercurial attacking abilities, but on the big stage when it mattered he again showed that he is too erratic to be the man for the job. The frustration so often experienced by the Warrior Nation will soon be transferred to the West Country. The introduction of Henry Pyrgos early in the second half further highlighted why many rate him as the best Scottish scrum-half, and the timing of his return couldn’t be better with Scotland head coach Vern Cotter set to announce his Scotland squad for the Six Nations this week. Pyrgos can count himself unlucky not to have started the match, having come back from a couple of weeks on the sidelines through injury, but there is no doubt that he will start at Bath next week. His control at the breakdown has been superb for the Warriors this season and sets the platform for the backs to run their lines, which led to both of the van der Merwe’s second-half tries. The very fact that Pyrgos lacks the pace and unpredictability of Matawalu is part of what makes him an essential component in the Warriors backline. His vision and ability to spot gaps in defence then deliver accurate, quick ball to his team-mates so often gets the Warriors in behind, and that’s exactly what they need next week if the Warriors are to get the win they need at The Rec. It will be no surprise to see Pyrgos named alongside Gloucester’s Greig Laidlaw and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, who has impressed for Edinburgh this season, in the Scotland squad on Tuesday.
MORE: The latest football news
MORE: The latest tennis news
BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge