ONE week you are a rooster, the next a feather duster. That is the reality of being involved in professional rugby in Scotland – and something Ali Price understands only too well.
The scrum-half was still establishing himself in the Glasgow Warriors team when he got his international break in November 2016 off the bench for the final seven minutes of Scotland’s third and final Autumn Test match against Georgia, and he announced his arrival in sensational style with a quickly taken tap-penalty and break to launch a thrilling attack which ended with Stuart Hogg scoring the team’s sixth and final try in a 43-16 home win.
All of a sudden, we had a new great hope at number nine, and the value of Greig Laidlaw – gritty and shrewd – was being called into question.
Flashes of Price’s unrestrained impetuosity – such as a cheap penalty conceded against France in the 2017 Six Nations for needlessly shoving Camille Lopez less than three minutes after coming on for the injured Laidlaw – were overlooked, with the desire to crown a new cock-of-the-north over-riding any sense of perspective about where he was in his development as a player.
And then it all started to go wrong, after a catastrophic misjudgement gifted Welsh opposite number Gareth Davies an interception try which derailed Scotland’s hopes of a positive start to the 2018 Six Nations in Cardiff prompted a slump in form which he had to work hard to get through during the most recent off-season.
So, the 25-year-old knows a bit about dealing with rugby set-backs, which perhaps helps explain why he has been handed the Glasgow Warriors number nine jersey for this afternoon’s crucial European Champions Cup clash against Cardiff Blues at Scotstoun.
He has been selected ahead of George Horne, the man who has taken over his mantle as the exciting prospect elevated without serious examination to the status of world-beater.
Price is hardly in the seasoned veteran bracket yet, but the extra two years, 35 Warriors appearances and 15 international caps he has over Horne could be invaluable in steadying a creaking ship – especially with third choice and highly inexperienced Brandon Thomson in the Warriors’ stand-off slot this week (replacing Adam Hastings, who was been taken out of the firing line after a tough couple of weeks).
“I feel that’s where I am at with my career now,” said Price, when asked if he has a responsibility to help guide Thomson through such an important game. “I’ve got a few games under my belt and that’s something I’d look to do regardless of who we have at 10.
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It has been a tough month for Hastings, who initially slotted effortlessly into the role of Warriors’ chief playmaker after the departure of Finn Russell to Racing 92 during the summer but is now learning the hard way about the importance of balancing instinct, guts and natural ability with the importance of restraining your game when your mojo is low.
Price is backing Hastings to bounce back but is understandably more focussed at this moment in time on helping taking some of the weight off the shoulders of the man currently in possession of that number ten jersey.
Thomson to the fore
“I think Brandon is a bit more structured in how he naturally plays the game,” said Price. “Every player has their positives and negatives. It’s more in certain areas, like if we are in their 22, that I have a grip on that and control things a bit more.
“I’m closer to the forwards and can work with them in how we structure our exit. Whereas if you are playing with an experienced 10 – a guy who has 70, 80 or a hundred games behind them – then he’s been in those situations more than I have been.”
Hastings may be the guy who has taken the hit for Glasgow’s recent slump in form – which has seen them lose three Guinness PRO14 matches on the trot – but Price insists that the general feeling within the camp is that this is a team blip which will be overcome by persevering with the team’s attacking mind-set rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water.
“We’re not far away,” he insisted. “People will see the results and think ‘disappointing’, ‘Edinburgh shut them down’ and ‘they’ve got no Plan B’ – all this kind of stuff – but I think if you look at the games [lost recently] it comes down to little bits of accuracy. It is a pass here [gone astray] and a pass there.
“Any team in our league can challenge any other,” he continued. “It’s a tough league and you’ve got to be on-song to get good results. With the Benetton game [which Glasgow lost last week], I wasn’t playing but I watched it and it was just little things that cost us – one missed tackle or one cheap knock-on – and they capitalised on that.
“In terms of how we’re feeling, we’re not far away from getting back to the side that clicked when we went on a good run of games and things came off for us. We’ve not changed how we want to play since the first Edinburgh away game, it’s just little things like not quite being as clinical as we want to be that has cost us games.”
Singing the Blues
Which all sounds conveniently positive, but the reality is that this self-belief and confidence that we keep hearing about needs to translate soon into something positive on the paddock soon.
A big European win this afternoon – which would put the Warriors in a great position to progress into the last eight of Europe for only the second time in the club’s history – would certainly quieten the doubters. But that is far from a foregone conclusion, despite the fact that Cardiff Blues’ hopes of progressing are already dead in the water and they have rested a number of key men for this encounter.
“We’re not going to take them for granted at all,” insisted Price. “This is a huge game for us, and the flip side of that is that a team is just as dangerous when they’ve got nothing to lose.
“We’ve got to approach this with the intensity we approached the first game [when Warriors hammered the Blues 12-29 at the Arms Park back in October]. They’re going to be a dangerous side regardless of who is named in their team, whether they’ve played before or not. Everyone at this level can play rugby, it’s not as if they’re bringing up a team that’s not going to compete.”
Glasgow Warriors (versus Cardiff Blues at Scotstoun Stadium, today at 3.15pm, live on BT Sport): Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Nick Grigg, Sam Johnson, DTH van der Merwe; Brandon Thomson, Ali Price; Oli Kebble, Grant Stewart, D’Arcy Rae, Rob Harley, Scott Cummings, Ryan Wilson©, Callum Gibbins©, Matt Fagerson. Substitutes: Kevin Bryce, Alex Allan, Petrus du Plessis, Tim Swinson, Chris Fusaro, George Horne, Adam Hastings, Lee Jones.
Cardiff Blues: Dan Fish; Owen Lane, Harri Millard, Willis Halaholo, Tom James; Steven Shingler, Lloyd Williams; Brad Thyer, Matthew Rees©, Dillon Lewis, George Earle, Rory Thornton, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Josh Navidi, Seb Davies. Substitutes: Ethan Lewis, Rhys Carre, Scott Andrews, Macauley Cook, Nick Williams, Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans, Aled Summerhill.
Referee: JP Doyle (England)