Analysis: Withstanding the Weeg

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This Sunday’s second Heineken Cup pool game of the season, and first top tier European game back at the Arms Park for nearly five years, sees Glasgow Warriors arrive in the Welsh capital.

Of course Dave Rennie’s side are a team we know well from the Pro14, but they have not been strangers in the Heineken Cup either, and our last victories in the big boys competition came over the Scots in December 2013’s double header. A 7-9 win at Scotstoun was followed by a 29-20 victory at home.

A long time has passed since then though, and fast forward to this season which has seen Glasgow make a blistering start to the Pro14 season, leading our Conference A by seven points after six games.

On the way to that they have scored 197 points at an average of nearly 33 points a game, claiming four try bonus points to help them push home their advantage at the top of the league.

However, in last week’s opening round of the Heineken Cup pool stages, Glasgow were restricted to just three points at home to Saracens on the way to a 3-13 defeat.

Of course Saracens are one of the best sides in Europe, but how did they keep a backline continuing Scottish internationals Ali Price, Huw Jones and Lee Jones, as well as the prolific DTH van der Merwe, quiet for 80 minutes? Well there’s some lessons for Cardiff Blues to learn.

Glasgow analysis 1

From the very first defensive set of the game, Saracens were unashamedly spot blitzing on the outside of the defensive line, identifying that Glasgow fly-half Adam Hastings has been one of the breakout stars in the Pro14 so far this season.

One of the Scottish side’s go-to moves is the screen pass, trying to put Hastings into some space behind a forward at first receiver, but the spot blitzer puts doubt into two people’s minds in that attacking setup.

Firstly, as the forward at first receiver turns to slide the ball out the back to the fly-half they catch sight of the defender flying out of the line and decide to keep hold of the ball, turning the attack back into the grateful clutches of the initial defensive line who prevent any forward momentum being gained.

Glasgow analysis 14

Then if the screen pass does still go ahead, the spot blitzer is right in Adam Hastings eyeline as he looks to move the ball wide to his dangermen. The fly-half faces a decision to either throw a very risky long pass, or turn back inside.

If he turns backs inside towards the waiting defenders, it can also offer the never-ending amount of Cardiff Blues jackals a chance to get over the ball before Glasgow support players get to the breakdown.

That wasn’t the only clip identified where the likes of Ellis Jenkins, Olly Robinson, and now Dillon Lewis off course, might fancy targeting Glasgow on the floor.

Glasgow analysis 22

This time it’s Maro Itoje flying out the of the line to keep Adam Hastings narrow, and once he turns inside and gets dropped behind the gain line it’s much easier for a defender to move forward into the jackal, rather than have to get around to the back feet and over the ball.

When defending against a side with the attacking prowess of Glasgow though, the simple spot blitz is not going to keep them at bay for the entire game, and this is where Saracens were very clever and Cardiff Blues can learn from them.

Glasgow analysis 13

Saracens switched brilliantly between the blitz and the drift defence throughout the game, identifying Glasgow’s attacking shape and being led well so that when the Scottish side had some go-forward ball they just dropped into a drift.

This prevented Sunday’s visitors from taking advantage of any space they managed to work, leaving them to make just six line breaks and carrying for just 2.6 metres per carry.

It worked particularly well on first phase ball, where a team like Glasgow are so dangerous with the quality of strike runners they possess.

Glasgow analysis 18

The drift defence takes any impact the screen pass may have away, as it happens deep enough from the defensive line to allow Saracens to read it and drift beyond it.

As a result Glasgow have no overlap and make no noticeable ground on first phase ball before Sarries line up again and in the end the Scottish side only have one penalty kick to show for what was a very equal game in terms of possession and territory.

However, despite failing to get on the board last weekend, Glasgow still offered a glimpse of the danger they can pose if you slip up in defence.

Glasgow analysis 2

The drift suffocates Glasgow of any space out wide, but an outside centre the quality of Huw Jones with a yard of space is always a dangerous player, and makes Saracens pay for not finishing the defensive phase.

Their inside defenders don’t carry through the drift and in the end a huge gap opens up right in the heart of the Saracens defence which the Scottish international just runs straight through.

Glasgow analysis 10

Then when the read on the defence is wrong, and the outside defender spot blitzes instead of drifting, the long pass is considerably less risky and Lee Jones has space to run into.

Glasgow with space to run into, front foot ball and a chance to play at a high tempo are a dangerous beast, and Cardiff Blues would do very well to avoid letting them dictate the game in this way on Sunday.

Last weekend saw a huge defensive effort from John Mulvihill’s men out in Lyon, meeting the physical levels that are required to repeat a typically large French side, as well as the organisation to consistently put up a grey-ish blue wall on each phase.

It will take commitment similar to that seen at the Stade de Gerland to win again this Sunday, but a different type of defensive system to keep a fluid, fast and dangerous attacking side at bay.

If we do that, our attack can cause anyone problems. Come on Cardiff!

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