Players like Johnny Matthews stepping up to the plate and Franco Smith’s high standards have Glasgow Warriors in a good place

Johnny Matthews has been pivotal in driving Glasgow to a European semi-final
©Glasgow Warriors/SNS Group

Players like Johnny Matthews stepping up to the plate and Franco Smith’s high standards have Glasgow Warriors in a good place.

In early June last year, Glasgow were thumped 76-14 in a United Rugby Championship 2021/22 quarter-final play-off by Leinster.

That day, the Irish province ran in 12 tries as the Scots were put to the sword, so it is quite interesting to note that the latter’s top try scorer for this season, Johnny Matthews, has scored the same number of tries for a Warriors side that have turned things around remarkably.

Over the next week or so, Glasgow have a European Challenge Cup semi-final away to the Scarlets [on Saturday] followed by a URC quarter-final play-off with Munster at home seven days later.

There is real belief that the club can go on and win a trophy in the coming weeks and catalysts for that have been the way the wider squad, hooker Matthews included, have stepped up in 2022/23 and also the way Smith runs his ship.

Danny Wilson lost his job following the Leinster rout 10 months ago and when Smith was appointed, the supporters did not exactly have the bunting out, but the canny South African soon had the fans on his side as they could see that everything he did was based around hard work and solid foundations.

"Do the players care? Yes. It’s clear they care. They care for Glasgow, for the product, for the club. That’s the one attitude I’ve picked up here. They want to be better. They are determined to rectify where they’ve let people down,” Smith said in a previous interview early on in his reign.

"There are different sporting personalities on the field. One of them, we call a knight: somebody who cares but doesn’t want to disappoint.

"Sometimes the more they are criticised, the less they want to disappoint. It’s very important they express themselves out there. That’s going to be my job: to ask them to choose to do things, not choose not to do them.”

"There are over 40 boys who could all be named in the matchday squad this weekend without any real drop in performance level"

Glasgow’s players certainly have expressed themselves this season as Smith wanted them to.

You only have to look at Richie Gray’s renaissance as a first-pick second-row for Scotland, scrum-half George Horne being back to his buzzing best or Sione Tuipulotu and Huw Jones’ centre partnership for club and country to see that.

And perhaps what has been most impressive about Glasgow this term has been the way so-called fringe players like Stafford McDowall, Tom Jordan, Sione Vailanu and the aforementioned Matthews have stepped up to the plate.

"There are over 40 boys who could all be named in the matchday squad this weekend without any real drop in performance level,” Liverpool-raised, Scottish-qualified hooker Matthews said.

"That’s the confidence we have as a squad. And the toughest games we have are out there [at Scotstoun at training] on a Tuesday and Thursday when everyone is going hell for leather against each other. It is a great spot to be in.

"Everyone is playing with confidence and we are all buying into what the coaches are trying to do. I always make the joke that I came here four years ago as World Cup cover and they still haven’t got rid of me, but I love coming here every day to train and I love playing at the weekend.

"Sometimes I do have to pinch myself that I was given that opportunity, and I’m just so glad that I grabbed it with both hands."

"We’re lucky that we’ve got a hooker group who drive each other on"

Matthews, the 29-year-old who played for clubs such as Sedgley Park, Yorkshire Carnegie, Rotherham Titans and the Sale Jets and Boroughmuir before getting his shot with the Warriors in 2019, is having the time of his rugby life.

His game is about much more than tries. He is dynamic around the park and a real nuisance for opponents, but scoring certainly helps players get noticed.

Twelve for the season so far from the front-row, including five in a recent Challenge Cup thumping of the Dragons (the first Warriors player to score that number in a single game), will do that and he has equalled Glasgow’s most number of tries in a campaign since the professional era began.

Sean Lamont (2003/04), Thom Evans (2008/09), DTH van der Merwe (2010/11) and George Horne (2018/19) have hit the dozen mark before, but rather than take all the personal plaudits, Matthews’s praises others for what he has been able to do.

"We’re lucky that we’ve got a hooker group at the club who work well together and drive each other on," he said.

"Fraser Brown worked with me a lot on lineout throwing last summer which brought me on and that’s helped me get into the position where I am competing for the matchday squad, so if it wasn’t for him helping me out I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now.

"Fraser and George Turner have scored quite a few tries from hooker too and we do a lot of work on driving lineouts and being clinical.

"Every time we get five metres out, we know we are in a position to score, so long as we execute the lineout like we have been doing."

And if Glasgow can execute the lineout and other parts of their game going forward then it could be an exciting time for them

The matchday 23 to play the Scarlets is due to drop around lunchtime today (Friday).