GLASGOW Warriors head coach Gregor Townsend has welcomed back fly-half Duncan Weir from injury for tonight’s RaboDirect PRO12 clash with the Scarlets and is keen to see improvement in his team come from within.
They are on the verge of claiming their best winning start to any league campaign after continuing from where they left off at the end of last season. But, while Townsend, like most coaches, prefers to focus on his own players for inspiration, he admitted that motivation this week also came from their Welsh opponents.
Such was Glasgow’s strength at home last season that there was a confidence that they would have secured a first place in the play-off final had they been handed a home semi-final against Leinster, but losses to Scarlets in September at Scotstoun and at the Parc y Scarlets in April ultimately killed off those hopes, and ahead of yesterday’s trip south the players were recalling that.
“The focus this week has been on playing a team that beat us twice last year,” acknowledged Townsend, in a refreshing change from the common response that ‘this is all about us’.
“They played really well here and forced us to play poorly down there. They had the physical edge over us so we know we have to get a number of things right to have a chance of winning this weekend.” He was backed in that assertion by Tim Swinson, who partners Al Kellock in the second row. He stated: “I was on the bench. I came on for the last 20 minutes. It’s something we’ve talked about this week and we don’t want it to happen again. It’s something were really aiming to put right. We felt that it was something that let us down last year.”
There is also the added spice of ex-Glasgow flanker John Barclay now playing in scarlet, and after making life difficult for Edinburgh last week, he will be out to make a point to the team that released him in the summer.
Townsend was the man who decided he could leave, but he insisted: “For me, I know what a good player he is, he is playing well. He came back from a shoulder operation and looked in really good condition against the Dragons. Last week he got a couple of turnovers and a yellow card, which shows he was a thorn in the side for Edinburgh. He is a quality player who played really well for us and I know will want to play his best game against his former team.”
Townsend is boosted this week by the return of Weir from a six-month lay-off with a leg break, to partner Chris Cusiter. Ruaridh Jackson is given a week’s rest before the Heineken Cup kicks off, while Niko Matawalu and Sean Lamont start on the wings, and Mark Bennett renews his centre partnership with Alex Dunbar.
Up front, Ryan Grant, Pat MacArthur and Moray Low take over in the front row and with Kellock and Swinson back together, Rob Harley returns to blindside flanker with Chris Fusaro at openside and Richie Vernon replacing the injured Josh Strauss at No 8. Jackson, Strauss and Stuart Hogg, out with a wrist injury, are all expected to be fit to return next week. “It is great to have him back,” Townsend said of Weir. “He got injured in the penultimate game of last season [Ospreys], we played two games after that and have played four this season so to have a six-month injury and only miss six games is great.
“He has worked really hard on his rehab, he has played two games now for Stirling and you can tell he is back up to the right fitness levels; confident with his movement and kicking and playing well too.
“Duncan is 22, but is three or four seasons into his professional career and started two Six Nations games last year, so he is an experienced stand-off and this is an opportunity to see where he is early in the season.”
In all, Townsend has made ten changes to the side that eventually overcame Zebre in Italy last weekend, which continues to reflect the enviable strength in depth at the club. Asked if this was a trial run for the Heineken Cup side that faces champions Toulon in France next weekend, Townsend kept his cards close to his chest. “I’m open minded on what the team will be next week,” he added. “We will start analysing Toulon and which players play well this weekend, but it is an opportunity for the 23 to show who is in form. We have used a number of players this season so nothing is finalised for the Heineken Cup yet.”
The Scarlets have lost only once to the Warriors in their last six meetings, but coach Simon Easterby warned: “Glasgow have been very impressive.
“They were strong at the end of last season and have kicked off in the same vein. They were a top two side last year in the way they were playing and beating them at home for us at the end of the season was massive – we didn’t allow them to get into their game and we will need to replicate that type of performance.”