Gregor Townsend: Rugby World Cup presents challenge

Academy player Zander Fagerson has made fine progress this season. Picture: SNS
Academy player Zander Fagerson has made fine progress this season. Picture: SNS
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Fifty-two is an important number for us at Glasgow Warriors. It may be the number of weeks in the year but it is also the number of players that have worn the Warriors shirt this season and it underlines just how much of a squad effort the modern professional game has become.

We have a full-time roster of 43 players and not only have all of them played this year but we have also had to feature players from the BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy and the club game, while a couple of players from Edinburgh Rugby have come in on short-term loans to play for us.

We will be missing in the region of 20 to 25 players throughout the pre-season

The highlights for me of this squad effort are performances of Academy players like Ali Price and Zander Fagerson, the former doing so well against Ospreys in a crucial game and also when he came off the bench two weeks ago to make a try-saving tackle against Cardiff. And Zander has learned and improved with every outing he’s had at tighthead prop, which is very encouraging for the months and years to come.

Also Fraser Lyle, who started this season as an amateur player with Stirling County, before being brought into our environment in November, played very well against Ospreys and has done a superb job at sevens for the Scotland team in the tournaments in Hong Kong and Japan.

But for me the squad effort was really epitomised when we had an emotional night at a sold-out Scotstoun against Cardiff Blues a couple of weeks back when the players did Al Kellock and Dougie Hall proud by the way they played. Hard work and support play allowed us to claim an important bonus-point victory.

Then the following day ten of our players represented the club at the Melrose Sevens and put in another big effort, especially defensively, to win the prestigious tournament. These are special and happy days when you see more players represent the club and that is what we will require going into next season.

When you put a squad together in terms of recruiting for the following season, you are thinking about signing or re-signing players that will help make a difference to the team, help the team win and also have a mind-set of wanting to improve and working hard to improve. So all the players you sign must be capable of wearing that jersey and helping the team win and drive high standards on a daily basis.

Recruitment is also a 52-
weeks-of-the-year job for us. We look at our squad first so that we can re-sign players we want to continue to be part of our club, and also look at players who will add depth in certain positions or replace those who are leaving through moves to other clubs or retirement. Crucially, this must all fit within our budget.

So we are very comfortable with the squad we are putting together for next season and confident that we will be able to challenge throughout the 12 months but especially in the highest level games like key Guinness Pro12 league fixtures and European Champions Cup games.

But next year presents unique challenges as the Rugby World Cup will be played during the Pro12 season and we will be missing in the region of 20 to 25 players throughout the pre-season and for the first two months of competitive rugby.

The 2015/16 season could be viewed really as two campaigns. The first one where we will work with the group of players who won’t be at the Rugby World Cup training camps and which will start at the beginning of June and go all the way through to November.

The second campaign begins when we have everybody back and are ready to take on the European Champions Cup which will be played pretty much straight after the World Cup, when we will likely go from a squad of 35 players to around 55.

It will be an exciting season in that we will have more players in our squad with some players new to professional rugby and some new to Glasgow Warriors, so it will be great to work with them and see them get their first opportunity to improve and play for the club.

It will also be exciting to – hopefully – see so many of our players getting the opportunity to play in a World Cup and then returning to Glasgow ready to make the most of the added knowledge they have picked up from all of that big game experience.

Returning to the current campaign we have a massive few weeks ahead and, like any other time of the season, it will be the squad effort that will allow us to achieve what we want to achieve.

There has been a real high level of quality to our training sessions this week and a large part of that has been down to those players who have not been selected for the game against Connacht on Saturday.

They have really added a high quality intensity in our defence and attack sessions and also our set piece which we know will receive a huge challenge from Connacht, who in terms of stats, have the best scrum in our league and are also very effective in the lineout.

Connacht are a team we respect very highly and getting an extra few days preparation has helped us a lot because we have been able to analyse what a tough challenge this will be against a team who have played really well this year and are still very much in the mix for a European spot.

We love playing at the Sportsground in Galway, the atmosphere is always excellent with the noisy home crowd, and the often challenging weather conditions heighten your senses and you have to be focused for the full 80 minutes.

We know what is at stake, not just in terms of this game but in terms of all our final three fixtures, and it’s up to us to rise to that challenge. It has been a great week and now we must finish it by delivering the level of performance required.