TWO defeats from three games in Europe and motivation might seem on the wane for Glasgow in the Heineken Cup, but head coach Gregor Townsend has been working hard this week to convince his players that all is not lost.
Win their three remaining games, against Cardiff at Scotstoun tomorrow night, and then away to Exeter and home to Toulon in January, and they could yet have European rugby to look forward to after the Six Nations for the first time in 17 years. Glasgow are bottom of Pool Two but just five points off leaders Toulon in what is a very tight group.
The reality may be that the Warriors, like Edinburgh, are more likely to be battling for a runners-up spot that could seize a place in the Amlin Challenge Cup but, on their past record, that would still be a significant achievement.
Hooker Pat MacArthur, expected to come into the starting line-up for Dougie Hall against the Blues this week, was having no truck with any idea of playing second fiddle.
The 26-year-old has been pushing through to take over from experienced Test hooker Hall at the Warriors and is intent on supplanting Ross Ford in the Scotland side this season, so it came as little surprise when he insisted that the confidence in the Glasgow camp remained high and that the squad remains focused on claiming every scalp in the final pool games and proving to be surprise quarter-finalists.
He said: “We have massive belief in ourselves, we are a really tight squad as you can see every week. Not only do we have a tight squad for ourselves but we have a crowd that comes out every week and generally believes in us, so we have to perform for our team and for the greater crowd.
“There was massive disappointment in the camp [in Cardiff]. We were disappointed not to have won that game but, going to Cardiff, you have got to see they are a good team at home – look at what they did to Toulon [Cardiff won 19-15].
“We looked at the game and can take some positives and some disappointment from it. The disappointment is from the result but there were positives within that. We scrummed relatively well, which we hope to repeat, and our counter-attack was strong. Unfortunately, we did not get the win and that is something we have to put right.
“But the fact is we are a confident team. We believe in ourselves and what we can do. We can go out and take on the biggest teams and believe we still have a chance in Europe. We have to start this week with a big performance but we have built ourselves up over the last four or five years through strong performances and being a hard team to play against.
“We have had strong performances and, yes, things don’t go perfectly every week, but we still believe in what we have, the way we play rugby. We can push on from there.”
From a neutral standpoint there was little of merit in Glasgow’s performance in Cardiff and there was much about the way MacArthur spoke yesterday that smacked of media training, modern players being “coached” in what to say in media interviews and how to “stay on message”. Naturally, perhaps, it remains a positive message.
Glasgow have built foundations on which to fall back, having started the season with five straight wins. Defeat in their opening Heineken Cup tie away to Toulon, while expected, preceded poor performances and league defeats at home to Munster and the Dragons, followed by last Friday’s error-strewn loss at Cardiff, which heaps pressure on head coach Townsend and his backroom team and players to find a way back to the accuracy of earlier in the season.
The challenge begins with working out why the game they sent the players out to execute was not executed – was it a poor gameplan or did it run aground on poor skills? Both were to blame but, if basic skills in passing, tackling and clearing-out are as poor as was the case at the Arms Park, no gameplan has any real chance of being effective.
So, it comes back to sharpening the skills tomorrow night.
It would not be unreasonable to expects a wholly different display from Glasgow but Cardiff will expect that, too. Townsend is clearly motivating his squad with the belief that this game is win or bust – beat Cardiff and it’s game on, lose and even an Amlin Challenge Cup spot would disappear.
“We must perform and push for a win – that is the goal,” added the 26-year-old McArthur.
“The best thing about double-headers is that you get a chance to right the wrongs, to build on things didn’t do that well and try to fix them,” he added.
“We have a lot of analysis every week. Win or lose, we will be in the next day analysing what areas were good and what we can improve.
“Nothing changes. We were in the day after analysing and then, on Monday, we were in looking forward to next week against the same team.
“We know we need a strong performance. We need to show what we are about.
“We are disappointed that we never managed to pull out a really good performance last weekend and coming home in front of our fans – we know we have sold more than 5,000 tickets already – we need to put on a performance for them and to push on in the biggest tournament. That is our motivation.”
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE