ONE glance at the Glasgow team that won the 2015 PRO12 final is enough to show how much the squad, particularly the pack, has changed in those three short years. Of the forwards likely to begin Friday’s semi-final against Scarlets, only Jonny Gray and Ryan Wilson were involved in that historic win over Munster. Rob Harley is a possible, but the other five who started the game in Belfast are no longer with the club. The back division is far closer to what it was then, helped in part by the return of DTH van der Merwe, but there are significant changes there too, with Richie Vernon and Henry Pyrgos unlikely to be in contention at centre and scrum-half respectively.
And yet, despite the churn, there is something about this year’s squad which bears a close resemblance to their 2015 forebears – closer, certainly, than the playing staff used in the previous two seasons. Whereas in 2016 the team just squeezed into the play-offs and last year did not get there at all, this time round they have dominated their conference from start to finish. The class of ‘15 topped the table at the end of the regular season too, ensuring a home semi against Ulster before heading to Northern Ireland for the final.
With players such as Al Kellock, Dougie Hall and Sean Lamont involved then, the squad that won the title for the first time had far more experience than the present one. Even so, Tommy Seymour, for one, believes that this year’s group is as strong as the one he played in back then.
“It’s very different – there’s a lot of boys that have moved on or retired, departed the club, and a few boys that have come back – DTH obviously,” the winger said. “We’ve got a quality team, I think. We’ve done incredibly well over the season to get where we are and qualify with weeks to spare.
“It’s obviously a much younger team than the last one, but I think the willingness to win and the excitement to win the championship is as strong as it was back in 2015. I’m under no illusions that this squad is just as capable as the one three years ago of winning the championship.”
Of course, as defending champions, Scarlets will be just as confident as Seymour and his colleagues of their ability to take the title this year, and the Scotland winger certainly expects his team will need to raise their game. “We’re going to have to play our best game of the season, really, because I’m under no illusions – none of us are – that Scarlets will be playing theirs,” he continued.
“They were champions last year. They’ve got an opportunity to do something really special and win back-to-back titles, so their motivation is easy.
“Obviously for us winning the title is huge – to get a second championship with Glasgow. So the boys are buzzing about the opportunity to do that.
“They have a really expansive game. I’m a big fan, the boys are, of the way they play their rugby. It’s similar to us in the sense that they like to throw the ball around. They’ve got really good distributors in the forwards as well, so it plays well into those hands.
“I think for us defence is key, really – we’ve got to shut down and limit the opportunities that they have to get their strike runners on the ball. And I think for us it’s about being clinical when we’ve got the ball and making sure that we’ll handle the pressure that comes with the occasion and push to get across the line for a few scores as well.
“I think both teams will be looking to nullify the other’s attacking opportunities. Defence will come massively into this game. We know the threats they bring across the park and we’ll be looking to put in a strong defensive performance.”
If the Warriors do win, it will be John Barclay’s last game in a Scarlets jersey before he joins Edinburgh. Seymour was a team-mate of Barclay’s at Glasgow as well as being a fellow-international, but insisted he had not dwelled too much on any personal rivalry.
“It’s nice to get to beat John any time we get the opportunity. I’ll be honest, that has not even entered my mind. We’ll worry about beating Scarlets and that will be as pleasure in itself. If Barclay’s on the losing side, then obviously it’s a little bit of a cherry on top. As I said, I’ve not given Barcs much thought. I love him, but I’ve not given him much thought.”