THERE are many differences between the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and after emerging from the 1872 Cup success Warriors coach Gregor Townsend is facing almost the complete opposite challenge that is confronting his Edinburgh counterpart.
While Michael Bradley seeks to lift his deflated team against league contenders Leinster at Murrayfield, Townsend leads his buoyant side into battle at Scotstoun tonight against mid-table Italians Treviso. If leaders Ulster win at home against second-placed Scarlets, a win for Glasgow would push his side into second place in the table, at least until Munster host Cardiff tomorrow.
But, Townsend insists the motivation is similar, stressing the need to build on the good aspects of Warriors’ play over the festive period and improve on poorer elements, notably the failure to put Edinburgh away after a dominant first half in each game, and grasp bonus points in the quest for RaboDirect PRO12 play-off places.
While Bradley works on inspiring his players to believe that they are better than they have shown in recent weeks, Townsend must, however, work to ensure his players do not fall into the Scottish trap of believing they are better than they may be and allow complacency to creep in.
“I’m pleased with the effort the players have put in over Christmas and New Year,” Townsend said, “the way they’ve been looking after themselves and coming in to train. But we’re looking forward to what will be a very tough game. Treviso have won their last three in the Rabo. In Europe, they scored 25 points at Welford Road and lost by a point at home to Leicester. They have also won six times in the Rabo this season and they have picked their strongest available team.
“So, the players know that Treviso are a tough side. When we played them over there they were in charge of the middle period of the game, but fortunately we dictated proceedings at the end. They won here last season and they’ve beaten Edinburgh at Murrayfield this season. We know that this is a hugely important game. It is our last Rabo game for a month. We want to go into the break sitting in the top four.
“Getting the wins [over Edinburgh] was tremendous. There are always areas where you want to improve and scoring four tries would be one. We had two clear-cut chances in the first half of the first game and should have scored, and in the second we had a try disallowed and Stuart [Hogg] fumbled one over the line, which he may never do again in his career. There were opportunities, but getting the two wins is what we were there for.
“What pleased me particularly was the effort and work-rate off the ball, which was outstanding. The defensive focus and the dominance in the tackle in the second game was the best it has been this season and our attack in both games was very good. The first 55 minutes at Murrayfield was our best all-round performance of the season.
“But then Edinburgh came back into it and scoring that first try gave them a bit of confidence. We should have shut that down, but they went through a lot of phases for the second try, and you have to give credit to them because they came back in both games. They are a good side with very good players.
“But it’s great to have progress and a trophy. Winning back-to-back tells the players and the staff that we are making progress. It creates another level of competition. Players trying to get back into the team know they have to take their opportunities when they come along and have to play close to their best.
“So, there’s no collective complacency this week. We’re up against a good side and know that we will lose if we don’t play well and, individually, if players don’t perform then their positions will be under pressure.”
Townsend has stuck largely with the team that won at Murrayfield last weekend, but has again shown the strength in the squad in the four changes he has made. Powerful centres Graeme Morrison and Alex Dunbar return, with Sean Lamont out with a rib injury, leaving him with little game time before the Six Nations. Peter Horne has been given a week off, while Tommy Seymour – scorer of the two tries that sunk Treviso in Italy earlier this season – is back in place of Sean Maitland and Tim Swinson comes in for Tom Ryder at lock, alongside captain Al Kellock.
Stuart Hogg retains his place at full-back and Ruaridh Jackson starts for the fourth game in a row, his first such run this season, again with Henry Pyrgos at scrum-half. Townsend confirmed that Pyrgos was also pushing himself into contention to take on goal-kicking duties, as witnessed in training, where the scrum-half had joined the three stand-offs Jackson, Duncan Weir and Scott Wight, alongside Hogg and Byron McGuigan in kicking training with Chris Paterson and Duncan Hodge. However, in the absence of Horne, Jackson is top-scorer in training and so will start as goal-kicker this evening, seeking to improve the team’s recent conversion rate.
Treviso have made six changes to the side that completed their derby double over Zebre for their third win on the trot.
The Italians claimed their first away win in the RaboDirect PRO12 in this fixture at Firhill last season, 15-13, having first beaten Glasgow at home earlier in 2011, 19-16, and they name a strong side bidding for a first Scotstoun success. Edoardo Gori is back at scrum-half, Andrea Pratichetti on the wing and the pack is strengthened by the return of Corniel Van Zyl, Michele Rizzo, Lorenzo Cittadini and powerful Fijian Manoa Vosawai.
The Italians have shown they have the measure of Scottish sides, but Glasgow are on the scent of league play-offs and Townsend is keen to keep the pressure on to build momentum. “We’re right in the mix in the PRO12,” he added, “with just a couple of points separating five teams, so we know that every match from now on is a big occasion.”