Gregor Townsend: Munster battle is just what Warriors need

Tommy Seymour is back and eager to play after spending time on Scotland duty during the autumn Tests. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS

Tommy Seymour is back and eager to play after spending time on Scotland duty during the autumn Tests. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS

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If it isn’t a full blown crisis at Glasgow then it is undoubtedly the little brother of one and Junior looks an awful lot like his much maligned elder sibling.

The Warriors have hardly lived up to their name on their last two outings, conceding seven tries and managing just one in reply. They have won six matches in all competitions, but lost five and dropped out of the Pro12 play-off positions following the last one.

The club can point to the 18 Glasgow players on international duty last weekend and critics will point right back at the nine international players in the starting XV that lost to the Ospreys.

Ill discipline has played a part. The club was hit with two yellow cards against the Scarlets and then Brian Alainu’uese saw red against the Ospreys and his team-mates, struggling with the full XV, collapsed under the pressure of being one man down for 33 minutes.

And now the league leaders visit Scotstoun this evening, the same Munster team that kyboshed Glasgow in that emotionally charged European Cup tie following the death of their coach Anthony Foley. The men in red were a force of nature that day and have continued in much the same vein ever since, the bullies of yore, and much the better for it. Munster have not lost since and their run of success includes a 27-14 victory over the Maori All Blacks.

With the Champions Cup just around the corner head coach Gregor Townsend has resisted the temptation to rush all his Scotland players back into the squad for tonight’s big match but there are several of Scotland’s Warriors who have been pressed into service.

“It’s management of players,” said Townsend. “We have a big game this week and some big games coming up over the next few weeks so we have to take care of the management of players for the games against Racing.

“Tommy [Seymour] didn’t play the first Test and having spoken to him he’s physically in a good place so we can see him being available for this game and the next two. Others, like Hoggy [Stuart Hogg], Jonny [Gray] and Alex [Dunbar] who have played all three, this is an opportunity to rest. We have to manage our resources carefully to ensure we have the best possible team we can put out in the next few weeks.”

Despite the absentees Glasgow have a strong side and one with a point to prove. In the front row Gordon Reid was part of the scrum that got its backside felt at Thomond Park and he dropped off Scotland coach Vern Cotter’s radar as a result. In the back row Chris Fusaro is desperate to get games under his belt after a lengthy injury lay-off and alongside him Ryan Wilson leads the side despite two and a bit appearances for Scotland in the recent autumn series.

Jack-of-all-trades Rob Harley was utilised at six against Georgia but he is pushed into the second row for tonight’s match, where he partners Tim Swinson.

Seymour is joined on the flanks by Rory Hughes, who did his reputation no harm during a cameo appearance against Georgia, while Mark Bennett fills in at 12 with Nick Grigg playing one wider. All of which leaves Ali Price and Peter Horne to fill the half-back shirts, the self same pairing that failed to spark anything much against the Scarlets back on Bonfire night.

In that match Horne took almost every pass ten metres behind the gain line and, as a result, Glasgow were tackled eight yards behind the gain line almost every time. That isn’t just the fly-half’s fault, he can’t play flat unless his forwards provide quick, front-foot ball. But given the speed of Munster’s defence in that cup match, if Horne doesn’t attack the gain line tonight there will only be one winner.

Still missing several of his most influential players and with a third successive loss looming, is a game against the league leaders Munster a good or bad one to have this evening?

“Best game, definitely,” Townsend replied. “We want to go out and play well and we’ll have to against the best team in the league just now. We played them recently and they were much better than us on the day. We have to show determination to respond not just to what happened last week but what happened in that game.”

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