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Glasgow trio give fitness boost to Scotland

By PA
Galway , Ireland - 28 October 2023; Glasgow Warriors head coach Franco Smith, right, and Kyle Steyn of Glasgow Warriors before the United Rugby Championship match between Connacht and Glasgow Warriors at The Sportsground in Galway. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Franco Smith is optimistic Glasgow pair Kyle Steyn and Jack Dempsey will be in contention for the start of Scotland’s Six Nations campaign, while he anticipates Rory Darge returning for “the back end” of the tournament.

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Winger Steyn has been sidelined since late October with an ankle injury while back-row duo Dempsey and Darge have been sidelined since November and late December respectively with knee and face injuries.

All three remain absent as Glasgow face Exeter at Sandy Park on Saturday in a match crucial to their prospects of progressing in the Champions Cup.

But Smith hopes to have Steyn and Dempsey back for next Friday’s match at home to Toulon, three days after Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend names his Six Nations squad and a fortnight ahead of the opening match away to Wales.

The prognosis on Darge is better than initially suspected but he is not expected back until towards the end of February, a month in which Scotland will play three of their five Six Nations fixtures.

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The matches away to Italy and Ireland in March appear more realistic for the 23-year-old, who missed the whole of last year’s tournament through injury.

“Jack has trained well this week, he came through everything,” Glasgow head coach Smith said on Friday. “He’s had a non-contact week leading into contact at the back end and next week he will be clear.

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“Kyle is the same. He has had his first full week of training. They are now well prepared and I think both of them can be available for selection next week.

“With Rory, we had good news on his MRI. His prognosis is six to eight weeks from the injury, and two weeks of that has already gone, so I definitely think he will make it by the back end of the Six Nations but that will depend on Scotland’s involvement as well.”

Smith has made six changes to his side for the Exeter clash. Scotland back-rower Matt Fagerson returns after a month out with a facial injury but hooker Johnny Matthews – the top scorer in the United Rugby Championship – is rested as he recovers from a minor ankle issue.

Gregor Hiddleston, 22, will make his professional debut in place of Matthews in the number two jersey as Warriors bid to pull off an away win against their Gallagher Premiership hosts and remain in touch with top two Northampton and Exeter.

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“I don’t want to add more pressure to what there already is,” said Smith. “We know the Champions Cup is tough and we know what needs to be done. We’re approaching it almost with a Test match feeling.

“There is not going to be much room for error with the way Exeter play. Our execution needs to go to the next level. As we’ve turned the page now and are into 2024, it’s important for us to get more cohesion and get a better outcome from our processes.”

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Poorfour 4 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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