ONE high-profile Glasgow coach may be reaching for his coat but Gregor Townsend appears determined to hang around and make amends for last weekend’s loss to Toulouse.
After seeing what he dubbed his best available team come second to the four-times champions, Townsend will hope that today’s selection will be even better. Glasgow could still find a roundabout rout through the cup quarter-finals if they lose this afternoon, but they would not want to put that theory to the test.
Townsend has tweaked his team rather, adding some muscle in an attempt to counteract the sheer size of the Toulouse players. The recently recovered Euan Murray comes on to the bench, where the veteran tighthead will be expected to put in a big shift in the final 30-odd minutes.
Tim Swinson brings his direct running and even more direct tackling to the Glasgow second row in place of Leone Nakarawa, who drops down to the bench. Glasgow felt that they failed to generate enough forward momentum before they moved the ball wide last Sunday and Swinson’s selection should help rectify that problem.
In the backrow Ryan Wilson takes over from the injured Chris Fusaro, just as he did in Toulouse, while Rob Harley moves to the openside flank at least partly because Fusaro’s regular back up, Tyrone Holmes, has a calf injury.
The net result is that Glasgow go into the game with two blindside flankers while Toulouse start with two genuine “fetchers” in Yannick Nyanga and the peerless Thierry Dusautoir.
Harley has been on good form all season but it still a big ask for him to keep a lid on two of the very best in the business when playing out of position.
“I thought Rob (Harley) did really well there (at seven),” said his coach.
“He has been in outstanding form and his work rate has been superb. At the end of the All Blacks game he was still tackling everything that moved. It was the same at the weekend.
“He has played most of his rugby at 6, but he is capable of playing at 7.
“Toulouse have picked two opensides, and Dusautoir and Nyanga are both outstanding players. Dusautoir is one of the best ever to play the game so we know how good we have to be there.
“We think Rob is the ideal person and, given that we have two opensides injured, we’ve got the best available back-rowers on the field.” Townsend sprung a surprise in the backline with the selection of Richie Vernon at 13 in place of Peter Horne.
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The former breakaway will make his first European start in his new position after making the move from the third row of the scrum one year ago.
Sean Lamont, who played outside centre for Scotland in two of the three autumn Tests, must content himself with a place on the bench. Leaving someone of his experience bench-bound in a game of this magnitude is a brave call from Townsend, not least because the 13 channel is the hardest of all to defend.
“We felt he (Vernon) was developing really well at 13 last year,” said Townsend when asked to explain the selection.
“He played (for Glasgow) during the Six Nations and scored two tries away to Leinster and probably should have got a third.
“He had a great summer playing sevens rugby and has shown what he can do in the last couple of games (against Treviso and the Scarlets). We see him developing as a 13.
“That Leinster game was the breakthrough. He played really well for Cardiff the week before, made a try and had a great break. It was hit of the week or something when he handed off one of the Cardiff players. Then the Leinster game he came to the fore. That was away from home against a top side.”
Lamont sits on a bench that is split equally between forwards and backs, with four of each.
While there is no specialist back-row replacement Townsend indicated that reserve hooker Fraser Brown could do a shift at seven while the other back-row places were covered by... Richie Vernon, of course.
When asked about the importance of this game Townsend left no doubt that he and his squad were fully aware of what was at stake.
“The Munster semi was a huge game,” he said, “but the European Champions Cup is bigger. We are playing against a team with the biggest budget in world rugby and with so many great players.
“It is a sell-out crowd. There is an opportunity this year if we were to win to be close to progressing so it means something, a lot more than the [home] game against Toulon.
“We are all aware of the magnitude of the game and we can’t wait to play it.”
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