GREGOR Townsend admitted tomorrow’s win or bust meeting with Montpellier at Scotstoun is the perfect chance for Glasgow to show that they are ready to qualify for the last eight of European Rugby’s elite tournament for the first time.
The head coach accepts that Warriors’ failure to escape from the pool stages of the Heineken Cup over an 18-year period has been a source of frustration. But now, with just two games of their Pool Four campaign in the inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup left – against the French side and English Premiership outfit Bath, Glasgow hope that this could be the year.
Yet, while he accepts that the arrival of South African World Cup-winning coach Jake White has galvanised Montpellier at the worst possible moment, Townsend has promised that his team can prevail if they produce a performance stoked by passion but controlled and clinical in its execution.
“If we lose tomorrow then we are out the tournament. If we win we still have a chance. If we do more than that we have a better chance. It is tough but it’s all about what we do. So this week has been more about putting our game in place in defence and attack. We have had nine days build up, so the boys have had more time to recover and make it more about us,” he said. “Over the two remaining games, we know eight points won’t be enough, nine points might be enough. Who knows what the other teams do? But first of all we have to win.
“Montpellier are a good defensive side and have an aggressive line speed, which is unlike most French teams, so it will be tough to break them down. But we have to just focus on what we do well and make sure that leads to us creating opportunities.”
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Townsend has made three changes to his starting line-up from the side who beat Scarlets eight days ago. Canadian winger DTH van der Merwe replaces the injured Sean Lamont and starts on the left wing, with Scotland international Tommy Seymour switching to the opposite flank.
The other changes are in the front-row, with props Ryan Grant and Jon Welsh coming in for Jerry Yanuyanutawa and Mike Cusack, who are named amongst the replacements.
Most noticeably on the bench, Scotland centre Mark Bennett returns from a hamstring injury after a nine-week absence.
The 21 year-old is certain to prove a key attacking weapon in the later stages of an encounter in which his brilliant running lines could make the difference. Scotland scrum-half Henry Pyrgos has shaken off a knee injury to also make the bench.
Now in his third year in charge at Scotstoun, Townsend is still irked by the failure of the previous two European campaigns, yet, with Glasgow second in Pool Four and never before having been in such a promising position at the business end of the pool stages, his outlook was bullish: “The tournament is very strong. To get into the last eight you have to play very well and have to win at least four games. Some of the teams we have been up against have been strong,” he admitted.
The Warriors’ head coach continued: “We have not fulfilled our full potential in games over the last two years. I thought in my first season, two-and-a-half years ago, I didn’t think we had the necessary belief to go on and beat Northampton when we were 15-0 up.
“Last year, we did not play well in the two Cardiff games. But this year we have done well. We played well in our first two games to win against Bath at home and at Montpellier.
“We played well over in Toulouse and came up short by three points against them at home. So things are going to happen when you play the best teams. You have to learn from it and keep improving.”
The prospect of crossing coaching lances with former Springboks head coach White is something that Townsend is plainly relishing, while also accepting that, with the men from the Altrad already having beaten European champions Toulon in French Top 14 action under his tutelage, the signs are that Montpellier will be a far tougher proposition from the side Glasgow beat 15-13 in France.
Townsend said: “Clearly things have changed now because Montpellier have Jake as their new coach and we have only their last two games to see whether they look for continuity and pick the same team they have picked for the last two weeks, or do they play other players to give them an opportunity? Will their focus be on the Top 14?
“Either way, they will play to their strengths and their main strength is their set piece. They have fantastic individuals and like to play rugby but will probably see that as where they can have an edge over us. But the DNA of Montpellier players is to come and play, so to get the mix of both they can be dangerous. Now they have a World Cup-winning coach so Montpellier are a dangerous side who come with nothing to lose.”
Glasgow Warriors team to play Montpellier, European Rugby Champions Cup, Scotstoun Stadium, Sunday 18 January (kick-off 1pm) – live on Sky Sports 2:
15. Peter Murchie
14. Tommy Seymour
13. Alex Dunbar
12. Peter Horne
11. DTH van der Merwe
10. Finn Russell
9. Niko Matawalu
1. Ryan Grant
2. Pat MacArthur
3. Jon Welsh
4. Tim Swinson
5. Jonny Gray
6. Leone Nakarawa
7. Ryan Wilson
8. Josh Strauss (Captain)
16. Fraser Brown
17. Jerry Yanuyanutawa
18. Mike Cusack
19. James Eddie
20. Richie Vernon
21. Henry Pyrgos
22. Mark Bennett
23. Sean Maitland
Not available due to injury: Adam Ashe (neck), Kevin Bryce (shin), Rossouw de Klerk (foot), Chris Fusaro (ankle), Dougie Hall (shoulder), Rob Harley (leg), Stuart Hogg (leg), Tyrone Holmes (eye / face), Lee Jones (ankle), Sean Lamont (leg), Euan Murray (achilles), Tom Ryder (neck) and Duncan Weir (arm).
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