Gregor Townsend expects togetherness and poignancy at Thomond

Glasgow Warriors head coach Gregor Townsend. Picture: SNS
Glasgow Warriors head coach Gregor Townsend. Picture: SNS
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Glasgow were already anticipating the unique atmosphere of Thomond Park on a European afternoon and know that will now be ramped up even more in the wake of Anthony Foley’s tragic death on Sunday.

The spiritual home of Munster rugby will be packed to the rafters, with both players and supporters bursting to pay fitting tribute to their stalwart former player and coach.

“Obviously, there will be poignancy, but there will be a lot of noise,” said Warriors coach Gregor Townsend. “There will be a feeling of togetherness. Munster have dominated European rugby and have had some great wins. You’ll see lots of red jerseys in the crowd and you’ll see the team come together. We are expecting a difficult game.

“I think it is a game to remember what Anthony did and helped create at Munster. He was one of the key players that got them that success and he was also a very good coach.

“We always knew it was going to be a huge occasion. Munster in the Champions Cup are a different team. They play at a much more intense level.

“I would imagine it would be a huge game in terms of crowd support. Our players appreciate the enormity of what has happened and being involved in the game will hopefully bring out the best in both teams.”

The sadness of Foley’s loss will dominate the build-up to Saturday’s Pool 1 clash right up until kick-off but Glasgow will try to focus on the job in hand of backing up last Friday’s dazzling 42-13 dismantling of Leicester Tigers in the Champions Cup opener at Scotstoun.

The brilliance of that performance has lifted belief that Glasgow can get out of the pool stage for the first time and potentially go deep into the competition.

Munster and Leinster have proved that a Celtic side can conquer Europe and Townsend sees no reason why a Scottish side can’t follow in their footsteps one day.

“There’s no reason why we can’t,” said the coach. “When Edinburgh got to the semi-finals [of the then Heineken Cup in 2012] there were three Pro12 teams in the last four. The Pro12 teams started really well last week so it’s now about taking opportunities.

“If you can get out of your pool you are three games away from winning. But the tough thing is getting out the pool.

“There are some really good teams in the Pro12 who can compete at the highest level. We have an opportunity this year, as we’ve had every year. We’ve played one game of the six, with the best possible outcome, so we have to make sure we do that and more over the next few weeks.”

Townsend accepts that the emotion surrounding Saturday’s occasion will add even more responsibility on his co-captains Henry Pyrgos and Jonny Gray to keep the players calm and focused.

“Both of them and other leaders will have to do that,” continued Townsend.

“I thought last weekend was a great display by Jonny. That’s what he normally does but I thought his captaincy was very good. He spoke well to the referee, made adjustments to what we were doing. He took decisions – ignoring his coach again, which is great – on what to do with going for more scrums or a lineout drive.

“To do that in a big game when you’re up against England internationals is really good. He looked very confident.”

Townsend added: “But one of the key aspects last week was how leaders stepped up throughout the team.

“We have people in key decision-making positions. Finn [Russell] had an excellent game and Josh Strauss played his best game of the season and probably the calendar year. Rob Harley, Ryan 
Wilson, Stuart Hogg all played really well.

“It will be important in any away game that these guys talk and work out what’s happening during the game.

“We have prepared really well, as we did last week, with three days of training and staying in a hotel.

“Preparation is important but it’s about how the players react to what is happening during the game that will win us the game.

“They did that really well against Leicester because they worked out where we could pressure them and where we have to be strong. We have to do that again this weekend.”