Gregor Townsend likes nothing more than confounding expectations and the coach who became synonymous with ringing the changes – win, lose or draw – surprised pretty much everyone by selecting the exact same XV to play Leicester this evening that lost to Munster last Saturday.
“That’s like me, isn’t it?” he joked before offering an explanation.
“I felt we played really well in certain aspects last week, with intensity and aggression. That was a high quality game, as close as I’ve seen here to Test match level. We’re disappointed not to win and we had chances to score more points.
“If we come with that mindset and application we will put ourselves in a good position to win this weekend. Those players did that so they get another opportunity. The bench guys will have a big impact, and adding Brian [Alainu’uese] and Henry [Pyrgos] to the mix means we should be stronger this week.”
As Townsend alluded to, the twin changes that have taken place are both on the reserves’ bench. Giant lock Alainu’uese replaces academy member Matt Fagerson and his sheer size will come in handy when countering the Tigers’ pack. As his coach pointed out, the big fella was playing well before earning a suspension for a shoulder-to-the-head incident.
The other change brings the return of Henry Pyrgos. Although the club co-captain can’t dislodge Ali Price from the starting XV he is sure to make an appearance at some point.
The maths is quite simple: win the match and Glasgow go through, anything less will probably not do, although a draw would have the Warriors fans biting their nails and offering up a prayer to their deity of choice.
If last weekend was all about Munster’s defence against Glasgow’s attack, this evening’s encounter at Welford Road can be summed up as desperation against pride.
Glasgow’s desperation to squeeze into the ranks of Europe’s elite, where they feel they belong, is clear, while Leicester Tigers will be summoning up the ghosts of Martin Johnson, Dean Richards and the old ABC club (ask your dad) in an effort to restore some pride in a jersey that has conceded a whopping 110 points in their three away matches this season.
Even at home their defence is not what you’d call watertight, with Racing leaving the Midlands with 17 points and Munster one less and, yes, the defence coach has already been shown the door.
“They have quality players,” said Townsend when asked about today’s opposition, “a really strong set-piece, dangerous runners in the backfield. It looks like they are trying to move the ball more – more off the top lineouts rather than driving. Players are dropping back for counter-attack. There is an emphasis on them getting the ball and playing.
“They will definitely want to play their best at home. They have a great home record. They have fresh memories of losing to us and will want a better performance. They would not be happy with aspects of that game, or the Racing ’92 game last week. They are very dangerous and they try things as they have nothing at stake.
“It will be tough. They have a brilliant home record. They are a very good team but we have prepared well this week with a lot of energy in our sessions. We need to play with the intensity we had against Munster but take our opportunities close to the try line.”
It is perhaps the last place in the UK that Townsend would choose to have to win to qualify for the last eight in Europe but, as he alluded to, this Tigers team is changing its stripes or at least attempting to do so.
Now under new management, coach Aaron Mauger, a former All Blacks centre of real class, is slowly persuading his charges to lift their sights and expand their horizons. It is fair to say that not everyone on the field will agree with the U-turn in tactics.
If Leicester do throw the ball about, and Mauger may feel that this is the ideal game in which to experiment, the tactic comes with risks for both sides.
While Leicester have strike runners like Matt Tait and Peter Betham who can finish as well as anyone, a more open, expansive game would play to Glasgow’s natural strengths of attacking with the ball in hand and exploiting turnovers in the wide channels.
If Glasgow are defending a narrow lead coming into the final furlong we could even witness a reversal of roles, with the Warriors borrowing from the Leicester of old and keeping things tight while Mauger’s team throw the ball about in search of the winner.
The fact remains that Glasgow have their destiny in their own hands going into the final pool match, unlike at any other campaign throughout Townsend’s five-year tenure.
“It’s a much better situation to be in than in the past few years,” said the relentlessly upbeat coach.
“We have been involved in the last round before but needed a lot of results to go our way. If we had won at Bath we would have gone through but we didn’t expect that.
“We know now that if we win we will go through and that’s exciting.”