ALASTAIR Kellock is anticipating an emotionally-charged evening at a packed-out Scotstoun Stadium tonight but is adamant that, when the whistle blows, minds will be fully focused on winning the game.
Guinness Pro12 leaders Glasgow host Cardiff Blues in their penultimate home match of the regular season aiming to maintain their push for a place in the semi-finals.
The game is being used as an opportunity for the club and its supporters to pay tribute to their long-time captain Kellock and veteran hooker Dougie Hall, both of whom announced last week that they will be retiring at the end of the season.
Former Scotland skipper Kellock, who has captained Glasgow since he joined them in 2006, will lead the team out for the 151st time with his two children – six-year-old daughter Kate and two-year-old son Ruaridh – as mascots. He admits it will be a special moment but insists it won’t be difficult getting back down to business when the game starts.
“The past week has been great,” said Kellock, who will move into an ambassadorial role with Scottish Rugby in the summer. “I’ve had some fantastic messages from all kinds of people. But then you have to put that on a shelf and concentrate solely on the fact you’ve got Cardiff at the weekend and how big a game it is for us to keep the momentum going from the last few weeks.
“It will be a fantastic occasion if we get what we need to do on the pitch right. I’ve spoken to the boys about that and told them to focus purely on the fact we’ve got a game of rugby.
“There are obviously external factors for Dougie and myself. But the focus has to narrow. The last few days, training with the sun on our backs, I’ve noticed a few guys drifting off and thinking about the tries they’re going to score rather than the rucks they’ve got to hit in the first place.”
The families of both Kellock and Hall will play a key role in the preliminaries and the lock forward revealed: “My dad and Dougie Hall’s mum will be taking the match ball out along with Bernie Mitchell from Hillhead and a good mate of mine, Alistair Johnston, who has been a long-time captain and stalwart at my old club, Allan Glen’s, and a guy I first played rugby with in first year at high school.
“There’s loads of people coming but I’m determined it’s not my last game. It’s very much a tribute game but there is a lot of rugby left.”
Glasgow go into tonight’s match two points clear at the top, but with just eight points separating the top five there is still work to do to secure a place in the semi-finals.
Trips to Connacht and Ospreys follow tonight’s visit of Cardiff before the huge clash against Ulster at home in the final round of the regular season.
Head coach Gregor Townsend has rung the changes, with Peter Murchie coming in at full-back to replace international Stuart Hogg, who has a groin injury. Peter Horne switches from stand-off to No 12, with Richie Vernon moving to outside centre, as Finn Russell returns to make his first appearance for Glasgow since January.
Henry Pyrgos starts at scrum-half in place of Niko Matawalu, while, in the pack, Scotland No 8 Adam Ashe is preferred to Josh Strauss.
There is also good news for international stand-off Duncan Weir, who returns to the bench after recovering from the bicep injury which ruled him out of the Six Nations.
Cardiff failed to set up a BT Murrayfield meeting with Edinburgh in the semi-finals of the European Challenge Cup as they lost 25-21 to Welsh rivals Newport Gwent Dragons last weekend. They are ninth in the Pro12 and out of the race for the top six, but Townsend believes having nothing to play for could actually make the Blues – who boast star names like Sam Warburton and Alex Cuthbert in their line-up – more of a threat.
“I believe it does make them more dangerous,” said Townsend. “The way they aim to play is they look to keep the ball. If you look at the stats they’re the team that passes the most, second most in terms of possession.
“So if that already is your gameplan and you add in the fact that they have nothing to lose it can be very dangerous. We need our defence to be really switched on and put pressure on if they do start to move the ball around.”
Townsend added: “We’ve had a really good week of training and you can tell that the focus is raised beacuse it’s an important game for the club. We’ve only got four games left. But we also feel a real sense of pride that this will be a tribute game for Al and Dougie and you can tell the guys really want do well for them.”
• As of yesterday 6,600 tickets had been sold for tonight’s game but tickets remain available at glasgowwarriors.org or 0844 800 3490.
Glasgow: P Murchie; T Seymour, R Vernon, P Horne, DTH van der Merwe; F Russell, H Pyrgos; J Yanuyanutawa, D Hall, M Cusack, T Swinson, A Kellock (capt), R Harley, C Fusaro, A Ashe. Subs: P MacArthur, G Reid, J Welsh, L Nakarawa, J Strauss, A Price, D Weir, L Jones.
Cardiff: G Anscombe; A Cuthbert, T Isaacs, G Smith, D Fish; G Davies, T Knoyle; S Hobbs, K Dacey, A Jones, J Hoeata, L Reed, M Cook, S Warburton (capt), J Navidi. Subs: M Rees, T Davies, T Filise, J Turnbull, E Jenkins, L Jones, S Humberstone, R Smith.
Referee: G Clancy (Ire)