Peter Horne will always be grateful to Sean Lineen for handing him his first full-time professional contract with Glasgow Warriors in the summer of 2009 when he was just 19 years old, but it is Gregor Townsend that he credits with allowing him to flourish as a ball-playing inside centre for both club and country.
At just over six foot in height and weighing in at a touch under 15 stone, Horne was never going to be the most physically intimidating presence in the club’s midfield, however, Townsend has allowed the Fifer to demonstrate that what he lacks in bulk is more than compensated for in terms of rugby intelligence.
“Under Sean I did not play all that much, it was more under Gregor that I kicked on. I played about 20-odd games in his first season [2012-13],” recalls the 27-year-old, who has now played 116 competitive games for the Warriors and been capped 23 times by Scotland.
“The 12s who had come before me were Graeme Morrison and Andy Henderson, who were big physical ball-carriers who were brilliant getting us some go-forward, and I felt under Sean that when I came into the team I was trying to do their role but was not nearly as good at it.
“Under Gregor the game-plan changed and we were trying to get a lot more from our outside backs by sticking me in the middle. I have been suited to a lot of the gameplans he’s played over the years but he has made sure that while my passing and things like that were important, I also always worked really hard on my defence.
“He’s been meticulous in making sure I am not just in there as a second stand-off, but also tackling hard, competing at rucks, stealing ball, and so on.”
Horne recalls that Townsend made an immediate invigorating impact when he arrived at Glasgow.
“In pre-season everything changed. We went from just running and running and running, to everything being game related. It was about making sure the skill levels of the whole squad were improving – tightheads, looseheads, everyone was getting their hands on the ball and he was making sure that we could all play, offload, catch, pass and all those sorts of things,” he explains.
“I don’t think we had a great pre-season that year results-wise. We lost a tight game to Exeter and we were terrible against Sale when the boys were flying around all over the place trying to get used to the new defensive system, but, after a couple of games, we started to get on a bit of a run, we were scoring tries and everyone was so excited. When you finished the game you were just desperate for the next one.
“Under Sean we were very difficult to beat and we were stuffy, and Matt Taylor [defence coach] has made sure we kept that, but under Gregor we have added a whole lot of different levels to our attack. It is great fun to be a part of it.
“It’s hard to put into words how much Gregor has done for the club. He’s taken us to another level.”
Regardless of whether the team win, lose or draw against Edinburgh at Scotstoun on Saturday evening, the 2016-17 season will rank as a rather disappointing end to Townsend’s reign as head coach at Glasgow Warriors – but Horne says that it is still important that the team perform well and get a positive result against their nearest rivals.
“As you can imagine, Gregor’s played it all down: he wants the focus to be solely on the boys,” he said. “But as a playing group we’ve spoken a bit about it – just how much it means to us. There are a few guys who are moving on that have spoken really well over the last couple of weeks. If it is one of your last games, what do you want to be remembered for? You don’t want to go out of the door on a bad note.
“I think it’s an easy game to get yourself up for. We’ve got a lot to play for – we want to send the coaches off on a high, out of respect for a lot of the guys that are leaving we want to play well for them, and it’s a last chance to put your hand up for [Scotland’s] summer tour.
“It might look like a bit of a dead rubber, but we’re certainly desperate to get another good win and hopefully get our hands on the 1872 Cup as well, because that is something which has evaded us over the last couple of years.”