Glasgow focus on Connacht battle amid Murrayfield final talk

Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend is aware of the magnitude of having the Guinness Pro12 final at BT Murrayfield but can't contemplate the '¨possibility of his Warriors side being there when such a tricky semi-final stands in their way.

From left, coaches Pat Lam, Gregor Townsend, Guy Easterby (Leinster) and Les Kiss (Ulster) in Edinburgh, venue of the Pro12 final. Picture: SNS
From left, coaches Pat Lam, Gregor Townsend, Guy Easterby (Leinster) and Les Kiss (Ulster) in Edinburgh, venue of the Pro12 final. Picture: SNS

Following last Saturday’s 14-7 defeat by Connacht they must return to Galway a week tomorrow and face the season’s surprise package knowing that no team has ever won an away semi-final in the Pro12 play-offs.

As the coaches and captains of the four semi-finalists – Ulster and Leinster complete the quartet – gathered in Edinburgh yesterday, Townsend was asked about the lure of playing in a final which would surely attract a huge crowd.

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“We’re obviously here today to promote the final and it’s fantastic for Scottish rugby that the final is being played at BT Murrayfield,” said Townsend. “It’s great for the Pro12 that over 30,000 tickets, I believe, have already been sold.

“For us, it’s about getting to the final wherever that would be. Last year we played in the final in Belfast and it was a great occasion. We won’t dwell too much on the fact it’s at Murrayfield. We’ve got a lot of work to do to play better and get a chance of making that final.

“Just getting into a final would be tremendous for the players after the season and the challenges we’ve had. We know we have to win away from home and no team has done that as yet and we’re 
playing a team that’s just 
beaten us. We’ll have to work very hard between now and next Saturday, and then 
during the 80 minutes to get that win.”

Next weekend will see Townsend again pitting his wits against Pat Lam – a man he knows well from the Samoan’s time as Scotland contact coach at the 2003 World Cup and a few tussles on the field with the back-row forward. The ex-Scotland and Lions stand-off even recalled having a bit of a scrap with Lam while playing for Northampton against Newcastle. “I didn’t win,” said Townsend with a smile.

The Glasgow chief was effusive in his praise of the job Lam has done in leading Connacht, who are the traditional minnow province of Irish rugby, to a second-place regular season finish and their first ever play-off spot.

That saw Lam, who is in his third season at Connacht, succeed Townsend as coach of the year at the Pro12 awards in Dublin on Sunday and there was very much a sense of mutual respect yesterday. “Of course for us it was a big, big win,” said Lam of that 
victory over the Warriors at the weekend.

“Since I’d been coaching Connacht we hadn’t beaten Glasgow. Gregor’s done a great job with what he’s done with Glasgow. I think what Gregor has done, and the style of rugby that they play, has set the standard.

“It’s play-off rugby now. We know the other three teams have been there before and have won it: this is new territory for us.

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“But the way we see it is it’s a one-in-four chance. The biggest thing that we’ve done throughout the season is give us the willpower to get it home, and there’s no doubt it’s pretty major we’re at the Sportsground.

“They’re one-off games now, and we know they [Glasgow] will come back stronger.

“We’re hopeful the weather will be much better – I think both teams have shown throughout the season that we like to play a certain game that’s entertaining.

“And if we get the weather it will be a great day at the Sportsground.”

Townsend revealed that the possibility of centre Alex Dunbar – who limped off in Galway – making the semi-final will become clearer next week, along with Sila Puafisi’s disciplinary situation after the Tongan prop was red-carded.

“Alex is improving. He had a scan and we’re waiting to get more details,” explained the coach. “The positives are that the ACL [anterior cruciate ligament, which kept Dunbar out for seven months last year] is not affected, but he is moving better. We won’t be able to make a call yet, but we should know at the beginning of next week if he is available or not.

“We believe [the Puafisi hearing] will be on Monday. So, with Alex as well, we should know going into Tuesday who will be available. Henry Pyrgos has trained twice this week and seems much more positive about his neck injury. We expect him to be available.”