Gregor Townsend determined to overhaul cup deficit
“We know how difficult it is going to be to win the game and it’s going to be even more difficult to win by 13 or more points [in order to regain the 1872 Cup] but that’s the goal. We are here to win games, but we are also here to win bankable trophies so we’ll be playing to do that,” insisted the coach.
Sunday’s defeat was not the first time since Townsend took charge at the club in the summer of 2012 that his side have tasted defeat during the now-traditional festive-season double-header. They lost by the same margin [20-8] at the same venue last year. However, that was widely seen as a rare blip in an otherwise excellent season.
On this occasion, the manner in which Edinburgh dominated so many of the key battlegrounds four days ago, allied with the rather patchy form exhibited by the Warriors during the build-up to this match, has raised questions about whether we are about to witness a shift in the balance of power from west to east.
The Warriors may have a game in hand over their arch-rivals, but it will still be a major concern to everyone involved in the club that Edinburgh have now jumped two places ahead of them in the Guinness Pro 12 league table.
When asked if his team were feeling an added pressure against Edinburgh, Townsend was quick to recognise that the stakes have been raised significantly in recent seasons.
“Pressure or just the reality that this is a tougher game than it was three years ago,” he said. “We found out how tough it was last year and it’s even tougher this year. Edinburgh are a quality side, they showed that at the weekend and they’ve shown that throughout this season.
“They are an excellent defensive team, they have an excellent set-piece and they are also playing much more high-paced rugby. They scored off a turnover ball last week which shows they have some really good rugby players in their team.
“We have to improve in most of the areas of the game and, in some of them, improve a fair bit on last weekend, so we know that the task we have is huge. The players have all reacted really well and there’s a determination there to play much better than last week.”
A measure of Townsend’s dissatisfaction with the way his team were beaten in the first leg can be taken from the fact that eight new faces were yesterday added to the starting line-up.
With only a six-day turnaround between games, there is some logic in the argument for bringing in fresh legs but the fact that Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons has made only two changes (one of which was enforced by injury to Tom Brown) tells us a lot about which of these men is happier with how their team is performing at the moment.
Hooker Fraser Brown is the only member of last week’s front five to keep his place, with the return of captain Jonny Gray after concussion a big bonus for the Warriors.
The inclusion of direct and powerful ball-carriers such as Sean Lamont, Greg Peterson and Josh Strauss, plus Duncan Weir at stand-off, ahead of more mercurial talents such as Tommy Seymour, Leone Nakarawa, Adam Ashe and Finn Russell, suggests that a greater emphasis will be put on winning the battle at the pit-face before attempting to unlock Edinburgh’s defence in the wider channels.
“Finn is rested this weekend so that’s the reason he’s not playing,” insisted Townsend. “I felt he had a good first half [last week] and did a lot of things really well, especially restarts. As with all the team in the second half, we didn’t look after the ball well enough – we kicked it away. So there are some areas to work on but a lot of his game was good.
“I think Duncan’s running game has really improved this year. He’s been full of energy these last few weeks, he played at home to the Scarlets and then came off the bench in the away game, and he knew he would be starting this game so he has been looking forward to it,” he added.
“Tommy is also rested. The Scotland players can only play five games in a row and we’ve got another three Champions Cup games after this, so it’s a case of knowing when to rest these players and, with Sean Lamont coming in, we have a very good direct replacement.
“Adam picked up a knock on his back so he’s not trained this week. It’s likely he could have been fit for the game, but we decided to go with Hugh Blake on the bench. Josh was always coming back in for this game. Adam knows that he didn’t play as well as he set out to play.
“Greg [Peterson] started against the Ospreys and came off the bench in about another four games before last week, so this will be his second start. He is a big man and very physical. He was outstanding against the Ospreys, he’s played very well in all the games he came off the bench, making an impact with his ball-carrying and ruck clears, and he adds a bit of weight to our set piece. We believe the balance this week, with Leone coming off the bench, is a better way to approach the game.”
Elsewhere, Townsend has handed 22-year-old Ali Price, who earned a full-time professional contract until the end of the season last week, the number nine jersey.
“He is in form and I thought when he came on he added tempo to our game, so he gets an opportunity to start, with Mike Blair and Henry Pyrgos still injured,” stated the coach.
“There was obviously a lot of disappointment with the way we performed last week, and perhaps a bit of anger, so it’s great that we get a second chance at the same opponents this week. Not every player is getting a second chance, but they are going to be behind the team,” added Townsend.