COMETH the hour, cometh the man… or so Gregor Townsend will be hoping after the Glasgow Warriors coach whistled up veteran skipper Al Kellock to lead the team in the final round of regulation league fixtures against Ulster at Scotstoun this afternoon.
Glasgow currently sit in second place, level on points with Munster but having claimed one more victory. Depending upon what happens elsewhere this afternoon they may need a bonus point victory to keep that second slot and the home semi-final that comes with it.
“Al had been in and out but he was inspired against Munster in the semi [last season],” said Townsend of his long-serving skipper. “He brings a lot of intelligence in how to manage a game. He helps the nine and ten with the decision-making. He has a calming presence. He is obviously a very strong lineout operator in attack and defence. He is very good at finding out what the referee wants from the team.
“You have 16 or 17 years of experience there and also a passion for the club. It is really pleasing for me but he is playing well. That is the first thing anyone has to do to get in the team.”
Kellock’s recent form may well justify his selection but since Tim Swinson is out of contention nursing an injury it was arguably the obvious call although Kellock still keeps Leone Nakarawa bench-bound.
Elsewhere, the South African Rossouw De Klerk replaces Jon Welsh at tighthead prop, Dougie Hall comes in for Pat MacArthur after the latter’s trouble hitting the board never mind the bull with his arrows against the Ospreys and there is a surprise omission of Rob Harley from the third row of the scrum where Josh Strauss shuffles to six to accommodate Adam Ashe at eight while Chris Fusaro fills the No 7 shirt as usual.
“I wanted to have a look at a different combination this week,” said Townsend. “Adam [Ashe] was our man of the match against Connacht, and I wanted to put him together with Josh [Strauss] and Chris [Fusaro] so Rob misses out this week. We know what that group of five back rowers can do when they are playing really well. It will be a difficult selection next week if they are all available.
“Ryan Wilson is pretty quick and because he can cover any position in the back row he is a good bench option. He hasn’t played a lot of rugby recently, but he played well when he came on last week.”
In the backs Finn Russell comes in at stand-off as expected outside of Niko Matawalu, one of three picks, along with Kellock and Hall, who could be playing their last game at Scotstoun if results don’t go Glasgow’s way. Henry Pyrgos starts on the bench despite being one of Glasgow’s better performers against the Ospreys last weekend. Townsend doubtless has one eye on the four-try bonus point which Glasgow will need for a home semi-final if Munster and the Ospreys both get bonus point wins against the Dragons and Connacht respectively.
“It is important that we are up to speed with what is happening elsewhere,” said Townsend when asked about the flow of information this afternoon when all matches kick off simultaneously at 3 pm. “We have a system in place that should tell us what is happening in Galway and Limerick.
“It doesn’t change what we need to do. The only thing that would change it would be if one of those teams was losing and we then knew that a win would be enough. But if we knew they were winning by scoring four tries then we would have to do likewise.”
For their part Ulster have selected an experimental side, making 12 changes to the starting XV that earned a late draw against Munster last time out. They have at least five frontline players nursing injuries and a host of game breakers, Tommy Bowe, Ruan Pienaar and Rory Best, will all start on the substitute’s bench at Scotstoun.
You wouldn’t normally back Glasgow to score four tries against a highly competitive club like Ulster, but Neil Doak’s side are already guaranteed a place in the play-offs and the coach has preferred to rest key players rather than chase an unlikely home semi-final. It may just be the opportunity that Glasgow need to cement that second place, not that Kellock is counting his chickens.
“They have mixed it up but we must have made six or seven changes,” said the Glasgow captain. “They have stacked the bench with their bigger name players, but that’s up to them. We have got to beat the team put in front of us. Ultimately the focus is on just winning the game. We are going to find out what is going on elsewhere, certainly I will be seeking information as skipper, but we can’t do anything else until the game is won.”