Gregor Townsend: We must be 20 per cent better

Centre Peter Horne and his Glasgow team'mates will have to show patience, according to coach Gregor Townsend, when they face Ulster.  Picture: SNS/SRU
Centre Peter Horne and his Glasgow team'mates will have to show patience, according to coach Gregor Townsend, when they face Ulster. Picture: SNS/SRU
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WHILE Ulster rang the changes for tonight’s Pro12 semi-final at Scotstoun, Gregor Townsend contented himself with tweaking the run-on 15 who will front Glasgow’s bid to appear in back-to-back finals.

In a nod to the expected tactical kicking battle with Ulster’s sublime South African Ruan Pienaar, Henry Pyrgos comes in at nine in place of Niko Matawalu, who shuffles to the wing for what could prove to be the Fijian’s last-ever appearance in Glasgow’s colours.

Niko Matawalu could play his last game for Glasgow. Picture: SNS/SRU

Niko Matawalu could play his last game for Glasgow. Picture: SNS/SRU

Sean Lamont is listed among the substitutes but is almost certain to make an appearance off the bench when Matawalu switches to scrum-half late in the game, especially if Glasgow are trailing by four or more.

In the only other change, Fraser Brown replaces the veteran Dougie Hall at hooker after the former recovered from a hamstring injury. Pat MacArthur keeps his place on the bench and skipper Al Kellock leads from the second row berth as usual, another “adieu” for the veteran lock who has made more farewell appearances than “Ol’ Blue Eyes” himself.

Tonight’s visitors were at Scotstoun just six days ago and as expected they made wholesale changes to the second string side that was kyboshed last Saturday, 11 in all. With a short, six-day turnaround, most pundits imagined that resting a host of their best players would play to Ulster’s advantage.

But, Townsend was asked, might continuity and familiarity favour the Warriors?

Low tackling, line speed and discipline in defence will be key tonight

Gregor Townsend

“We’ll see, we’ll see after the game,” was the coach’s response. “Obviously they will think that they have an advantage with more players coming in who didn’t play last week. We’ve got players who have learned a bit about Ulster, about what they might do. Teams realise, I imagine we certainly do, we’ll have to play 20 per cent better than we did last week to win.”

With Rory Best, Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne and Pienaar returning to Ulster’s starting line-up, the visitors will fancy their chances of reversing last weekend’s result, not least because the final takes place at their very own newly-developed and newly-named Kingspan Stadium. Ulster may well view a semi-final on the road as a bigger challenge than a final on home turf and Townsend knows what to expect with a host of international stars in the opposition ranks tonight.

“We know these guys are quality players,” he said, reeling off a list of Ulster’s finest. “We prepared to play against them last week. It wasn’t until this time last week, 24 hours before kick-off, that we realised they weren’t going to play and we went to look at different players, but it [tonight’s game plan] is built on what we were planning to do last week and we know it’s the quality of playing an international team when you’ve got those guys against you and we’ve got to take them out of the game.”

His own team were a little underwhelming last weekend, ordinary for the first 50 minutes until Stuart Hogg’s second-half try sparked them into life, after which they were unstoppable.

At times, the Warriors’ rise to Pro12 prominence has seemed similarly unstoppable. In the past four seasons the West Coast club has ended the regular season in fourth, third, second and, this time out, they topped the table. After several “nearly years” Glasgow are accustomed to playoff rugby, which should hold no surprises.

“We’ve played in semi-finals, last year was the first one out of four I think that we have won, and the final,” Townsend reflected. “The experience of playing these big games, our players now have that, but you can’t predict the future, you’ve got to win the game that is in front you. You have to make that tackle, take that opportunity. That’s the thing about sport, we don’t know until 80 minutes after kick-off which team has come out on top.

“We have a way of playing whether it’s in attack or defence and it’s important that we do impose the way we are playing on the opposition. Sometimes that is hard to do when you are up against real quality opposition. When you are up against the best defences, you have to take whatever they give you and that might be one or two opportunities rather than five or six.

“So we have to show a patience but a relentless patience, we have to be knocking on the door to get those opportunities, and defensively we have to make sure that we produce our best performance. We are up against some real quality players against us, so low tackling, line speed and discipline in defence will be key tonight.”

Glasgow have a hunger to take that final step and actually lift some silverware, but Ulster have the lure of a final on their own turf and a host of well rested reinforcements. Let’s just hope that referee George Clancy doesn’t decide what looks like being a tantalisingly close encounter.

Glasgow

15 S Hogg

14 T Seymour

13 R Vernon

12 P Horne

11 N Matawalu

10 F Russell

9 H Pyrgos

1 R Grant

2 F Brown

3 R de Klerk

4 J Gray

5 A Kellock (c)

6 J Strauss

7 C Fusaro

8 A Ashe

Subs

16 P MacArthur

17 G Reid

18 M Cusack

19 L Nakarawa

20 R Wilson

21 D Weir

22 S Lamont

23 DTH v d Merwe

Ulster

15 L Ludik

14 T Bowe

13 J Payne

12 D Cave

11 C Gilroy

10 P Jackson

9 R Pienaar

1 C Black

2 R Best (c)

3 R Lutton

4 L Stevenson

5 D Tuohy

6 I Henderson

7 C Henry

8 R Wilson

Subs

16 R Herring

17 A Warwick

18 B Ross

19 R Diack

20 S Reidy

21 P Marshall

22 S McCloskey

23 M Allen