GLASGOW officially became Scotland’s “Raintown” when Deacon Blue first hit the charts with the album of that name in the 1980s, but it has played up to that moniker for far longer and is now threatening to ruin Glasgow Warriors’ season.
There was no disguising the difference between Scotstoun Stadium yesterday ahead of the arrival of Toulon and the conditions that met the teams at the start of the Heineken Cup in the south of France in October.
The reigning European champions flew in from the Cote D’Azur to Glasgow last night and the sight of large patches of brown “grass” down one side of the Scotstoun pitch might be enough to make the sun-tanned Jonny Wilkinson blanche. But, then again, he spent most of his senior career in Newcastle.
Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend probably never thought that his challenges as a head coach would stretch to predicting weather but, after late postponed games against Treviso and Edinburgh, forecast websites are now vying with rugby ones for attention on his laptop. The coach named his team yesterday, which showed seven changes including the positional switch of Sean Lamont from wing to outside centre and Niko Matawalu returning to the flank, but all anyone wanted to know as the groundsman hauled off tarpaulins to reveal the patches of mud was “will the game go ahead?”
“It is obviously fantastic weather now,” said Townsend, “and we’ve had covers on the last few days, and we’ll cover the pitch again tonight or tomorrow if there is any rain, so we are doing all we can and we’re confident that the game will be fine.
“There are obviously contingency plans out there but the important thing is getting this game on, and I think we will be in a really good position to do that.”
Treviso and Edinburgh have both arrived at Scotstoun in recent weeks and left without playing, as the heavens opened and flooded the pitch, but the SRU ground staff have been working daily with counterparts from Glasgow Life, the charity that runs sport in and around Glasgow, since to get Scotstoun back into shape for this game.
Townsend and the Warriors management have visited the artificial pitch at Clyde’s Broadwood Stadium and, with the Bully Wee being away to Annan Athletic tomorrow, that ground is on stand-by. It would also host a Sunday game if there is a late call-off tomorrow. But no rain is forecast currently until 3pm in Glasgow tomorrow, and even then it is due to be light, so Townsend has his fingers crossed.
Glasgow will also need some luck in their bid to salvage something from the Heineken Cup campaign, in the shape of a route into the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals. That would first require a win, probably with four tries, and for Exeter to beat Cardiff at the Arms Park. Even then, Edinburgh could kill off those hopes by winning away to Munster. But it remains a motivation.
Chris Fusaro continues as captain and Ruaridh Jackson and Henry Pyrgos are rewarded for good displays at Exeter by remaining together at half-back. James Eddie returns and joins Jackson in celebrating a 100th appearance for Glasgow, while Scotland flanker Richie Vernon is also poised for his first run at outside centre, off the bench.
DTH van der Merwe, Tommy Seymour and Josh Strauss have joined the injury list, although only Van Der Merwe is a concern. The winger is seeing a specialist for a shoulder injury and there are fears he could be out for some time.
The French club welcome back scrum-half Michael Claassens, props Xavier Chiocci and Levan Chilachava and the flanker Virgil Bruni, but the more familiar names of Wilkinson, Bakkies Botha, Carl Hayman, Andrew Sheridan, Martin Castrogiovanni, Juan Smith, Mathieu Bastareaud, Maxime Mermoz, Frederic Michalak and Matt Giteau pepper their 26-man squad.
This, however, is a strong Glasgow team and the glass-half-full supporters will recall that French sides have fallen down, often in a cold Scottish winter, Perpignan the latest in Edinburgh. The glass half-empty ones will note that this is hardly a French team.
“We have real belief in ourselves, which comes from the players,” said Townsend. “It is an outside chance [to qualify]. Certainly we need Exeter to go out and beat Cardiff, but Exeter are a very good team, and they lost last week to us and had a narrow defeat the week before, so I’m sure they are determined to get back with a win, and they played very well against Cardiff earlier in the season [Exeter won 44-29]. We’re not expecting the result to go in our favour but it could, so it is a motivating factor.
“But, when this fixture was announced at the start of the season, it was always going to be a huge game for us, playing Toulon in front of a big crowd. Now that we have played them once, and only performed for half a game really, we want to go out there and show what can do, play for 80 minutes and give it our best shot.”
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE