It is perhaps the one blot on Gregor Townsend’s coaching copybook, the failure of Glasgow to progress to the quarter-finals of Europe.
At the start of the season the Warriors squad set themselves two goals. The first was to win the Pro12, the second was to make it out of Pool 1 in Europe.
Glasgow started their Champions Cup campaign with a bang, thumping Leicester Tigers at Scotstoun before falling to Munster in an emotionally-charged match following the death of coach Anthony Foley. The Warriors have to win at least one match away from home to qualify, which means either today in Paris or beating a Tigers team intent on revenge at Welford Road.
Townsend has opted for a specialist seven in the form of Simone Favaro rather than pack the third row of the scrum with the bulk and carrying ability of Josh Strauss. Given that Glasgow will have to play a pacy game to stand any chance of success, the coach is effectively doubling up on his bet.
In the backs, Mark Bennett is the surprise omission to make way for Aussie midfielder Sam Johnson, who so impressed at the start of the season. Bennett has an uncanny ability to find the opposition try line but Johnson is the better defender and Townsend may be banking on Bennett’s scoring prowess off the bench.
At the sharp end of the team sheet, Zander Fagerson is recalled after a short break, partnering Gordon Reid and Fraser Brown in the front row. Tim Swinson and Jonnny Gray make up the boiler house, while Ali Price starts at nine where he will have his hands full keeping Maxine Machenaud in his box. Finn Russell goes head to head with one of the all-time greats in Dan Carter and Lee Jones is selected over veteran Sean Lamont to take the place of another injured player, Scotland winger Rory Hughes.
In all, there are six internationals returning to the Glasgow squad and, while Townsend would rather have them than not, they do bring baggage.
“It is tough when you have a lot of players coming back in,” said the coach, “it is tough to get selection right and tough for them in adjusting to how we play the game but we have trained really well.
“Those players have taken a lead, we have got back into our shape, our lineouts, what we are going to do. They know the opposition we are playing against, they all played in those games last year, why it worked for us in Kilmarnock, why it didn’t work for us out in Paris, so I think we are in a good place this weekend.”
As Townsend points out, these two teams know each other well from last season. The Paris fixture last year proved a steep learning curve for the Warriors as Glasgow conceded four tries, three of them to driving mauls. You would expect a coach of Townsend’s calibre to have a cunning plan up his sleeve and it appears that, just like flu, avoidance is preferable to cure.
“Part of the lineout drive is you give them the opportunity to go there,” he argues. “You give them penalties in the middle of the field and we can’t do that against any team but especially against the English and French [clubs]. If you give them five or six chances to drive in the 22, you are going to have outcomes that are not great for you.”
Townsend points out that Glasgow conceded just three penalties against Munster last weekend, which is saintly, so is discipline the key?
“Yeah, I think it is. Our penalty count is much better, we are the best in the Pro12 this year, but what we haven’t been so good at is cards. Now cards in a game like this will really cost us. If we get a card against a top side it is very tough for us.”
Which is why Brian Alainu’uese [three matches, two cards] starts on the bench from where he might emerge to face former favourite Leone Nakarawa in the Racing ranks, the man who probably won more matches for Glasgow than any one else.
“It would be nice to play against him. We love Leone as a club,” Townsend claimed before this game.
Let’s hope Glasgow feel the same way at the end of the 80 minutes.