THERE is a fine balance being trod at Glasgow this week as Gregor Townsend seeks to ensure his team grasp the error of their ways of late but, at the same time lifts confidence levels for tonight’s testing RaboDirect PRO12 clash with Treviso at Scotstoun.
None of the Warriors squad need reminded that they have lost their last three home games, a dramatic turnaround from the fortress-building runs of the past two seasons. With captain Alastair Kellock and Jonny Gray joining backs DTH van der Merwe, Sean Lamont, Peter Murchie, Mark Bennett, Gabriel Ascarate and Peter Horne on the injured list, and Stuart Hogg, Ruaridh Jackson, Ryan Grant and Rob Harley rested in line with SRU protocols, their challenge of righting the ship tonight is far from a simple one.
For Townsend, the introduction to life as a professional team coach has followed a relatively pleasing upwards incline over the past 18 months. Now his management skills are being tested and he admitted the back-to-back defeats to an under-powered Cardiff team, and resultant extinguishing of Heineken Cup qualification hopes with two games remaining, had been sobering for him and the players.
“It is tough,” he said. “It’s tough for the players straight after a defeat when they have put in that effort and don’t get the rewards. When you lose it will hurt for a couple of days but then you have to focus on your next opponent and go into the game in a really positive mindset, which is what the players have done this week.
“You get a glow of satisfaction after a win that makes the effort feel more worthwhile and when you lose as an individual you have got that knot in your stomach you want to put right as soon as possible.”
Townsend said that there had been honest sessions with players and coaches on Monday about what had gone wrong, but insisted that that was a normal part of the debrief in the strong culture of responsibility built up in recent years. The outcome was an agreement that basic skills had let the team down and that a significant improvement in concentration and execution was required tonight to begin to effect a return to the free-flowing, threatening style of play, and crucially the try-scoring for which this squad had become renowned.
The Warriors currently sit in third spot in the league and could leapfrog Leinster if Edinburgh win at Murrayfield tonight. While Treviso have yet to claim a win on the road this season, they have beaten Munster and Connacht and drawn with Cardiff at home and finished within a score of Ospreys, Edinburgh, the Blues and Leinster. They send out a powerful, experienced side tonight that could almost be the Italian national team, so will not be easily beaten.
Glasgow have made changes but remain strong with Sean Maitland, Tommy Seymour and Niko Matawalu in a reshaped back three, and Duncan Weir, Chris Cusiter, Gordon Reid, Tim Swinson, Tom Ryder and Josh Strauss all returning.
“Now that we are not going to progress in Europe there is a massive focus on the league to build on where we are,” said Townsend. “I don’t know
whether you call it pressure or having that determination to win; the players have that same feeling going into every game.
“The positives are that there are a number of areas we know we can improve and from the Cardiff games we have learned a lot, so we will be a better team for the experience. I don’t have all the answers. The players actually have more answers than me, so the more we can get out of them the more we can share our learning and our goal-setting.
“There is some great ability in this squad and we built up a lot of momentum last year and we built up great momentum this year in the way we won the first seven games in the league. We have not been far away in the last couple of weeks. We just need that spark of scoring the try and the confidence will flow throughout the team.”
A re-emergence of that tonight would be a timely present for the Glasgow faithful.
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE