Gregor Townsend mixed things up when announcing the team he hopes will find a way past Connacht in this evening’s semi-final just two weeks after Glasgow finished second against the same opposition at the same stadium. The Glasgow boss has made five changes in all, two of which were forced upon him.
Zander Fagerson takes the place of Tongan international Sila Puafisa, whose red card two weeks ago probably cost Glasgow a home semi-final. The other enforced change sees Mark Bennett reclaim his No 13 shirt which proved desperately unlucky for Alex Dunbar.
The Scotland centre has suffered a slew of injuries of late and he limped off the Sportsground two weeks ago with another knee problem.
Elsewhere, Rob Harley and Ali Price are unlucky to drop out of the matchday squad, altogether although both men travelled to Galway.
They are replaced by Italian international flanker Simone Favaro and Henry Pyrgos who brings leadership and the best tactical kicking of any Scottish scrum-half.
He missed the last few weeks with a neck injury and his coach was happy to see the scrummy back in harness.
“It has been a huge boost to have someone of Henry’s talent and experience back available for such an important game,” said Townsend when announcing the team. “He was outstanding in the last game he played against the Scarlets back in the middle of April.
“Since then he has had a neck injury but he has trained fully for the last ten days so he is feeling healthy and ready to go.
“He is one of our leaders, particularly in the tactical side of the game, so, although I am not going to give anything away, having him in the team is important for us.
“As for the other changes I have made, I felt we have the right blend in the back row with Simone Favaro coming in at openside and Ryan Wilson on the other flank in place of Rob Harley, who is unlucky to miss out with Josh Strauss at eight.
“The back row is one of the most challenging areas and Simone played well off the bench for us against Connacht last time out and deserves the chance to step up. Having Ryan, Josh and Simone gives us options in attack and defence and looks a good blend. Adam has played well for us and provides something a bit different on the bench as he can cover eight and six and is a key ball-carrier for us.
“Two guys miss out through injury and suspension while others miss out who have been on great form. Ali Price, Lee Jones, Rob Harley. To leave players out like that is tough for them but it shows the competition we have.”
The only other change in the line up sees the muscular figure of Sean Lamont replace Lee Jones on the left wing. Lamont brings some oomph to what is otherwise a slight back division and, in the absence of Dunbar, the powerful winger will be asked to carry the ball in the Glasgow midfield if and when they want to generate some forward momentum.
In what promises to be desperately close game between two evenly-matched teams, Townsend got his retaliation in first with regards to the referee, in this instance Italy’s Marius Mitrea.
The omens are not great. It was the Italian who suffered a “should have gone to Specsavers” moment when somehow deciding that Fergus McFadden’s kamikaze tackle on Edinburgh winger Damian Hoyland a few weeks back was not deserving of a card; something the citing commissioner quickly put right. Perhaps with that incident in mind the Glasgow coach was happy to warn the Italian against being swayed by what is one of the most vocal group of supporters in the league. “The need for a strong ref is really important,” said Townsend. “The Sportsground is a different and tough environment for players and refs at the best of times so, for a semi-final, it will be even wilder than usual. It is going to be noisy and different to what you get at bigger stadiums.
“It is a very important game involving two teams that are going to be very aggressive. So, because of that, the ref needs to be strong as it is the most important game of the season for both teams.
“It is Marius Mitrea, who will be doing international rugby in the next few weeks. I expect him to perform well, just like I am expecting the players to perform well and to be strong.”
Connacht are in the happy position of knowing that they can beat Glasgow in Galway while the Warriors know that they must improve on two weeks ago to give themselves any chance of a second successive final, as their coach acknowledges.
“We need to keep our emotions in check, keep our discipline and there have been a few tactical things we know about and have worked on. We have to be, across the board, ten per cent better in our aggression around the contact area and defence, and need to take our opportunities when we create them.
“We did that at the beginning of the last match but did not take them. At this level, playing a quality team away from home, we have to take our opportunities if we want to win.”
CONNACHT TEAM: Tiernan O’Halloran; Niyi Adeolokun, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy; AJ MacGinty, Kieran Marmion, Ronan Loughney, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Aly Muldowney, Eoin McKeon, Jake Heenan, John Muldoon (capt). Subs: Dave Heffernan, JP Cooney, Rodney Ah You, Andrew Browne, Sean O’Brien, John Cooney, Shane O’Leary, Peter Robb.