AFTER spending some downtime during the international break hunting deer in the Scottish Highlands, Glasgow Warriors full-back Josh McKay now has an even bigger scalp in his sights.

The 25-year-old Kiwi and his team-mates have a score to settle when they head over to Dublin this weekend to take on Leinster for the first time since Warriors suffered a humiliating 76-14 drubbing against the Irishmen in last season’s United Rugby Championship play-off quarter-final, just over five months ago.

That match led directly to Danny Wilson losing his job as head coach at Scotstoun, and this weekend’s rematch will shed some light on just how much progress – if any – the team has made under Franco Smith.

There has, indeed, been some notable performances and positive results at home this season against Cardiff (52-24), Bulls (35-21) and Benetton (37-0), but Warriors’ away record remains catastrophic. They have lost all three matches played on the road so far in the 2022-23 campaign, against Benetton (33-11), otherwise winless Ospreys (32-17) and Sharks (40-12).

Until Warriors start looking like they might be able to trouble any of the leading teams in this league on their own patch then the perception of them as a team stuck perpetually in third gear will persist.

“It was nice to get away in the first week of the break, we had five nights in Paris and then I managed to get up to the Highlands that weekend,” McKay recalled. “I quite like hunting, so it was good to get some fresh mountain air.”

“It was about an hour north of Inverness with a fella I met when we were up that way for pre-season. I did a bit for the local club, Ross Sutherland – coaching with the kids, then watched one of the club games followed by Scotland versus Fiji in the clubhouse – and they jacked the hunt up as well, so it was an awesome weekend.

“The hill was completely different to back home but the hunting itself was essentially very similar,” he added. “We were spot-and-stalk, so you get the binoculars to find them, stalk in on them, then hopefully get the job done.”

Back in Glasgow, the Warriors squad have adopted a similar strategy when preparing for this weekend’s match. Their sights trained solely on the target ahead and they are not allowing the painful memory of that defeat in June to put them off the scent.

“With everything that went on afterwards, you reach the stage where you’ve got to just dump it,” reasoned McKay. “We’ve got to focus on ourselves and what we can do – not pour that negative energy into stuff that we can’t control.

“We’d come off a tough run of games when we headed there last season and I think it is a good time to have a crack at them after a couple of weeks of, meaning a lot of the boys will be feeling really fresh.

“Obviously, they’ve got a lot of depth too, so we respect that, and we know what they are capable of, but this week – for us – it is about doing all we can to put ourselves in the best place possible to go across there and get the win.”

McKay clams up a bit when the subject of Warriors away form – they have lost 11 out of 12 games played on the road since mid-January – is raised. “We just need to play away from home with the freedom we play with here at Scotstoun,” he eventually says, after a long sigh.

“I don’t want to elaborate on that too much. It’s not something we are interested in harping on about. We’ve just got to turn-up with the same mind-set as we turn up here.

“We should be getting to the stage where it doesn’t matter where in the world we are. If it is a rugby field, we turn up and we can put out the same performance.”

Only a handful of fringe players from Scotland’s recent Autumn Test Series are likely to be named in the Warriors squad for this weekend when it is announced at midday today – but that could include fellow full-back Ollie Smith, who played in the opening Test against Australia but didn’t feature again during the following three weeks.

“He’s a young fella who has taken every opportunity with both hands and he’s playing really well,” said McKay. “We obviously play the same position, but we’re good mates first and foremost, before we are competitors for that No 15 jersey, so I’m really proud of the way he’s playing.”