GLASGOW will welcome back six internationalists to their starting line-up for tomorrow night’s eagerly-anticipated first match at Scotstoun Stadium.
The Warriors are hopeful of filling the 4,600 seats, with standing also available behind the goals, but coach Gregor Townsend is acutely aware that the key will be to put on a show that persuades the fans to return. After losing 18-10 away to Ulster in their opening RaboDirect PRO12 match last Friday, the pressure to hit the ground running has intensified.
Back into the starting line-up come Test men Chris Cusiter, Ruaridh Jackson, DTH van der Merwe, Ryan Grant, Moray Low and John Barclay, while hooker Pat MacArthur takes over from Finlay Gillies to complete a new front row.
Townsend accepted that it can take time for a team to get used to a new coach and new defensive and attacking patterns, but insisted that he expected better from his team in Belfast and expects nothing less than a victory against a buoyant Scarlets side who defeated Leinster 45-20 last weekend.
“With every team at the beginning of the season, things will be less accurate than when you’ve had a longer time,” he acknowledged, “but the areas where we let ourselves down, the discipline and accuracy, not under pressure, are things that should have been sorted.
“We look at ourselves as coaches first. How could we have done that better? Did we emphasise those points during the week and train them? Highlighting them this week was certainly much easier because they stood out at the weekend.
“We have made a few changes with guys who came off the bench now starting and it’s fair to give them an opportunity to see if they will improve our chances of winning. And it’s up to them. If they play well, they will hold on to their jerseys.”
The battle at stand-off between Duncan Weir, Ruaridh Jackson and Scott Wight, the former Melrose player having apparently impressed hugely in pre-season, is kicking off. Weir rued an interception pass which gifted Ulster a try last week but, having experienced criticism in his own career as a stand-off, Townsend insisted that it would be harsh to blame the youngster for Warriors’ opening night woes when he was behind a pack struggling in the lineout and scrum, and where attacks foundered too often on errors or ill-discipline.
He has stuck with the powerful centre combination of Graeme Morrison and Alex Dunbar this week, and praised their defensive displays in Belfast, but admitted that he is looking for more from both of them in attack and spoke of Peter Horne, who starred in a training game with Ayr on Tuesday night as he returns from a long injury lay-off, as applying pressure. But he dismissed the suggestion that Morrison and Dunbar might be too similar in midfield or limit the width he is seeking from his side in attack.
“Their catch-pass is good so we can play outside of 12 and 13 fine. We want to see their strengths, which are running and getting over the gain-line and off-loading. It’s about the work they do off the ball to be real contributors in that attack.”
New signing Angus Macdonald, the All Black back row, has had niggling injuries and has been released to his affiliated club Aberdeen Grammar to get match sharpness, and Fijian scrum-half Nikola Matawalu, Townsend hopes, will have his visa cleared by immigration authorities late next week and finally be allowed to fly to Scotland. Injured Scots Stuart Hogg and Rory Lamont are not expected to be fit to play until at least early October.
Townsend’s focus is clearly on who is fit and able to help him launch a new era for Glasgow rugby at Scotstoun Stadium with victory. He expects a more complete and consistent performance tomorrow night and, while wary of the strength of the Scarlets, is confident that he has the team to secure a first win of the season.
“We’re expecting a great crowd and an excellent atmosphere,” he concluded, “but it’s not about just playing here, but about winning. The 15 guys starting have the first opportunity to play at Scotstoun, but it’s all about winning and beating Scarlets.
“The crowd makes a huge difference and the engagement with the crowd is very important, and that’s what has been built up over the last few years. The crowd here give the opposition and referee a hard time, which shows they’re passionate about this team, and that does help. When you’re playing in a hostile environment it’s tougher, and it gives the home team that boost, that you really want to play for your home crowd.
“It’s a tough task we have this week because the Scarlets were excellent against Leinster and are probably one of the best attacking teams in Europe when you give them the opportunity. So it’s up to us not to give them loose ball to run with and, if they do get the ball, get our defence up to the level it was last week. We are looking forward to it.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 18 June 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 21 C
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Temperature: 10 C to 19 C
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