When Dave Rennie signed on for his stint with the Warriors you suspect that one reason the Kiwi coach moved north was the ever-increasing travel demands that the expanded Super Rugby imposed upon all participants. Had his Chiefs team beaten the Crusaders in this season’s semi-final and flown to Johannesburg for the final they would, someone did the maths, have racked up an eye-popping, record 42,921 kilometres (26,830 miles) in one Super Rugby season.
He must have imagined that his days of visiting the high velt were behind him.
“I absolutely did!” the coach says with feeling. “I was in Bloemfontein earlier this year thinking it was going to be my last time there for a while but…
“It’s a funny week to go there. We have to stay in Jo’burg most of the week because there is a massive music festival on (in Bloemfontein), there is Test cricket, there is a Currie Cup game on the night after so there is just no accommodation.
“It’s a little bit strange that the Pro14 would put us in Bloemfontein on a weekend when you actually can’t get any accommodation.”
However, accommodation is the least of Glasgow’s worries, because the squad are facing an itinerary that would make Phileas Fogg baulk at the prospect, just to fulfil one 80-minute match.
It will take three flights to cover the 6,111 miles to get there; two flights and a bus journey to return to Glasgow. It will make all those unloved, overnight trips to Wales in the old Scottish/Welsh league look like cake in comparison.
Twenty-seven players make the trip, the match day squad of 23 plus four extras as cover. They are accompanied by a total of 14 non-playing personnel including coaches, bag men, video analysts, press and other management. Glasgow’s trip to Bloemfontein will entail a total of 501,000 man miles of travel or, to put it another way, 6,263 man miles of travel for every minute of rugby played.
Glasgow will be the first Scottish team to make the trip but thankfully Leinster and Ospreys have already suffered all the snafus.The Dublin side forgot visas for their Kiwis while the Ospreys hooker Scott Baldwin was bitten by a lion he was petting. “Lesson learned,” Rennie said and you certainly hope so.
The team may already have left by the time you read this. They board a flight for London Heathrow from Glasgow Airport today and fly overnight to Johannesburg, which will be their base for the next week.
Bloemfontein stands 1,400 metres above sea level so the reduction in air pressure means that the players will consume approximately 14 per cent less oxygen with every breath. The Warriors pride themselves on their conditioning but it will be tested.
“To be honest we won’t talk too much about altitude,” said Rennie, doing his best Basil Fawlty impression. “Our guys are really fit. The Chiefs teams that we have taken over there in the past have been really fit and we have run over the top of the Cheetahs in the last 20 minutes so we will be talking positive messages around that.
“Phil Healey our trainer has been the Chiefs trainer for the last nine years and he is experienced in preparing teams over in Africa so we’ll get the sleep patterns right. It’s not as daunting as it is coming from New Zealand.”
His squad will arrive in Johannesburg on Monday morning where they will set up base camp in one of the nation’s three designated capitals; staying in a hotel and training at a local high school through the week.
On Thursday the squad makes the short hop flight to Bloemfontein which lies 250 miles to the south east of Jo’burg, arriving Thursday evening, 24 hours ahead of the Friday evening match against the Cheetahs in Toyota Stadium.
When they get there they will meet a team with the wind in its sails after chalking up back-to-back wins over two former champions in Leinster and Ospreys. With the speed of Rosco Speckman and Makazoke Mampimpi out wide the Cheetahs will attack from all points of the compass but Rennie knows that that is not the only threat they pose.
“They are very dominant up front. They have an outstanding lineout drive. They have some absolute gas out wide so if you kick and chase poorly you get punished.
“If your discipline is poor and they can put you in the corner they have some very strong driving and some innovative options around that. It’s a different challenge to tonight I’d say. I imagine we’ll play in reasonable conditions even though its half eight at night.”
Two of the Cheetahs’ five tries against the Ospreys on Friday afternoon came directly from their mauling game and a quick look at the Opta statistics for the seasons so far suggests that the Saffas will prove a formidable stumbling block to Glasgow’s winning start to the season.The Cheetahs boast: n The fourth best scrum with 95 per cent success.
n The second best lineout on 93 per cent success.
n The equal best (with Glasgow) lineout defence with eight steals.
n The second best turnover count with 34.
n The fifth best line break stats with 39 (Glasgow are fourth with 41).
n The third best offloading stats of the season (Glasgow in second place).
Glasgow’s return trip is similar to the outward one, with a four hour bus trip replacing the short flight back to Jo’burg immediately after Friday’s match.
Saturday is spent in the city recovering before the squad fly out on Saturday evening and land in London on Sunday morning from whence they will make their way back to Glasgow.
That leaves Rennie and his exhausted players a short six-day turnaround before they play their first European Cup encounter against Exeter the following Saturday… on the south coast of England.
The Chiefs have a home match next weekend so while Glasgow players are making the 6,111 mile journey from Bloemfontein at least some of their European opponents will probably be walking home from Exeter’s Sandy Park stadium.