Gregor Townsend believes that his Glasgow Warriors squad are better equipped than ever before to use this Six Nations window as a launchpad for a tilt at securing a home draw in the Guinness Pro 12 play-offs.
Despite routinely losing almost a full team of players to international duty at this time of year, Glasgow have tended to emerge from the period with their title credentials enhanced – and they are determined to carry on that pattern when taking on the Scarlets, Ulster, the Ospreys and Newport Gwent Dragons over the next four weekends.
“The last two weeks have been really good from a coaching perspective,” said Townsend. “You’ll have to ask the players what they think, but the way they are training I think they have enjoyed it. They worked really hard last week and our training has been at a high level.
“I said to them that the quality and effort they have shown is the best I’ve experienced during my time here. That’s down to two things: the players’ ability and application, and also that we have a good situation injury-wise.
“Sometimes when you have 13 or 14 players away sessions aren’t that great because you only have 20-odd at training so you can’t do the 15 versus 15 stuff, but we had 32 on Monday and Tuesday, so there is a lot more we can do. You’ve seen the team we are putting out [this weekend] – it is a good team and there are people pushing in behind as well. So, it has been a really good two-week preparation – we just need to transfer that into the game,” he continued.
“If we do well during this period it really sets us up for the run-in. This is where we show the strength in depth of our club. It can be tough – especially this year when three out of the four teams we play are in the top six. But we feel we have the players to do well.”
The Warriors have named three players – scrum-half Henry Pyrgos, flanker Rob Harley and prop Alex Alan – who have been training with the Scotland squad during the last fortnight in their team to take on the Scarlets at Scotstoun tonight.
“We’ve not had them this week until today, and that is tough for them more than us as coaches, but it was great that they could come in last Friday and we’ve put things up online for them to look at in terms of plays, so they’ve all done their homework. Henry is our captain, Rob is our most capped player and Alex is very professional, so we feel they they’ll get into it very quickly,” said Townsend.
The side is further bolstered by the return from injury of winger Rory Hughes (who has just signed a two-year contract extension), second-row Scott Cummings and centre Richie Vernon (who will start on the bench).
Stand-off Brandon Thomson, who has been signed on a two-month loan deal from the Stormers in South Africa, will get his first taste of rugby in Scotland playing for Stirling County against Watsonians.
The Warriors are currently fourth in the Pro 12 table, while the Scarlets are just one point behind in fifth place.