TEN months after signing for Glasgow, Huw Jones will finally make his Warriors debut on Friday, and he could hardly have hoped for a bigger stage. After losing their first two pool games in the Champions Cup, Dave Rennie’s team not only have to beat Montpellier to have any chance of progressing to the quarter-finals, they have to do so with a bonus point.
Realistically, if they are going to make it to the last eight they also have to pick up five points in the return fixture, and then in the two January matches against Exeter and Leinster, the teams who have already beaten them. It is an implausible task given the calibre of the opposition, but Jones, who is understandably exuding confidence at the moment as a result of his excellent form for Scotland, is sure it can be done.
“It’s by no means impossible,” he said. “It will be tough, but we’re unbeaten in the league so far, so there’s no reason why we can’t do that again for the rest of our group games.
“They have a few big boys and a very big forward pack. I think they’ll be looking to dominate us physically, but if you look at the way both Glasgow and Scotland have been playing, with sightly smaller sides, with the pace of the game that we play, we’ve been able to overcome those bigger sides. I think that will be part of our plan as well, to play at a high tempo and try and get around their bigger guys.”
Getting around those bigger guys might well be the best game plan to ensure a win, but the vital element for Glasgow is to take a convincing lead early on. They cannot afford to spend 50 or 60 minutes in a war of attrition against Montpellier and establish a narrow lead with a couple of penalties: they have to back themselves to score tries from fairly early on – and thankfully, backing himself to score tries is a happy habit of Jones’, as he showed by scoring against the Wallabies from virtually a standing start.
Having played for Western Province up to and including their Currie Cup final victory at the end of October, the Scotland centre is familiar with some of Montpellier’s South African contingent, and has also crossed swords with other members of the French squad in Super Rugby. But, while knowing their individual strengths may be of some use, he expects the visitors to have a style of play that is pretty unfamiliar to him.
“It’s a different style of rugby that’s played in the Northern Hemisphere, and even with the French teams. I’ve played against France once, but never against a French side. I’ll be looking to get a lot of tips and pointers from the rest of my team.
“Jan Serfontein – I’ve played against him a couple of times – and Francois Steyn. Joe Tomane – I’ve played against him when he was with the Brumbies. Jesse Mogg, Aaron Cruden. With Super Rugby and with Currie Cup I’ve faced these guys before, but it’s a different game up here so you can’t expect to know what they’re going to do.”
Those members of the Glasgow squad and coaching team who have been around a bit longer than Jones have encountered similar opposition to Montpellier before, notably in the past two seasons of European competition against Racing 92. The Parisian team were too strong at home for the Warriors in January 2016, but by last year Glasgow had found a way to drag them around the park and tire them out, and the result was a win at the Stade Yves-du-Manoir and another back at Scotstoun.
For assistant coach Kenny Murray, the way the team played then is the blueprint for Friday night’s battle. “We know what Montpellier are like,” he said. “When you watch Montpellier play, they’re a very strong side: their game is based on physicality with big, big men. Their back line is one of the biggest in club rugby, not just northern hemisphere but southern too. You have Nadolo, with Steyn and Serfontein at centre – huge, huge men.
“It’s going to be a tough game for us, but we’ll reflect back to the two Racing games last year when we were met with real physicality and performed well. The two sides have a lot of similarities. Both sides have big men in both the forwards and the back line, they are both very direct.
“Montpellier with [Aaron] Cruden have a different element with their game. He has the ability to kick, but is also very evasive if you give him time and space. He has two massive guys outside him to get over the gain line. It will be a good match-up as well between the 10s.”
“We have a plan how we want to play them – people won’ t be too surprised at what that plan will be when you play against big French sides. We’re looking forward to it: the boys want to give themselves a chance to progress in the tournament, but there’s also that big battle of wanting to do well against big French sides.
“Our mindset has to be to go out and attack. That is how we have been playing this year. The team we’ll put out on the park will show that we’re out there to play rugby. We can’t hide from the fact that we need to win, but need to win well and score tries.”
Jones has never hidden from such facts. If Glasgow are to keep their qualification hopes alive, if only for another week, their new centre seems sure to be the key man.