GREGOR Townsend revealed that he had helped to persuade the British and Irish Lions of Stuart Hogg’s versatility, but insisted that he had no plans to move the Borderer to stand-off at Glasgow.
The Lions coaches have spent time in all four Home Nations over the past year and Warren Gatland, Graham Rowntree, Rob Howley and Andy Farrell have spoken with Scottish coaches in an effort to draw more knowledge of the contenders north of the border. Howley caused a stir on Tuesday when he said that Hogg was the back-up stand-off, with just two pivots named instead of the usual three. Townsend played a part in that when his former Lions half-back partner Howley called him before the coaches made their final selection on Monday night.
“I spoke to Rob on Monday,” he said, “and we talked about Stuart and Sean, and Stuart’s ability to play elsewhere in the back line.
“He was more interested in him at 13 [than stand-off], and Stuart played a lot of rugby at 13 last season and a couple of games there this year. But he is stepping up at first receiver a lot and he played ten as a youngster so he also has the ability to step up at ten in games.
“What Stuart has are tremendous basic skills and can do these skills at pace, which is why we think he’s suited to 15. It [moving Hogg to stand-off] is not really something we have looked at because of the strength we have at ten, with Peter Horne also in the mix there, and with Stuart playing so well at 15. But who knows? Next season is a new season.”
That last comment was said with a wry smile and the fact that Townsend is hoping to keep Scott Wight on the Glasgow books alongside Ruaridh Jackson, Duncan Weir and emerging fly-half contender Horne, suggests that there is no likelihood of Hogg shifting closer to the action any time soon.
But for Townsend the focus is firmly on league business and his attempts to uncover a first win in Connacht since 2007, and ensure the Warriors are ready to claim second place in the table should Leinster slip up against the Ospreys.
The squad will be named today, but Hogg, Maitland and Grant will all be involved, if not all starting, and Townsend believes from his own experience that their emotions of this week – particularly Grant’s disappointment – will have a positive impact on the team.
“Ryan’s very professional. Yes, he will be very disappointed and there will be a number of players this weekend disappointed not to have made the tour. It’s the ultimate for any British and Irish rugby player. But what you want to do after that is get out there and play.
“When I got the phone call in 2001 to say I wasn’t selected it was probably one of the lowest points in my career, but the only thing you can do is what you do every day and play rugby.
“It is difficult when people are celebrating and others are disappointed, but it’s great for us that Ryan is in such great form and, with a Scotland tour in the summer, he will be very determined to carry on playing the way he’s playing. And, if there are any injuries, I’m sure Ryan will be one of the first names the Lions are thinking about among props.
“As for Stuart and Sean, they will be buzzing and desperate to play in the big games we’ve got coming up. There will be a determination, a confidence and buzz from the players that have been selected, and a determination from those not selected to go out there and play at their best.”
Glasgow are third in the table, one point behind Leinster, and need the Irishmen to draw or lose at home to the Ospreys to overtake them and claim a home semi-final. Glasgow could also overtake Ulster to claim a top- two spot, but they would require a four-try win and Ulster to lose at home to Cardiff. Both Welsh sides are out of the running for play-off spots, so the expectation is that Ulster will be at home to the Scarlets and Leinster home to Glasgow in the last four.
Townsend added: “Leinster are in great form and had a terrific win over Biarritz at the weekend. They have a tough match against the Ospreys but we expect them to win that game. But we know how well we’ve been playing and how important it is to keep the momentum going. It was a terrific performance against Ospreys. We’ve had a week off, but have trained with really intense sessions. We’re doing all we can to win this weekend.”