Glasgow Warriors face up to tough task at Connacht

Pat Lam and Gregor Townsend are ready for the big game. Picture: SNS
Pat Lam and Gregor Townsend are ready for the big game. Picture: SNS
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Pat Lam’s Connacht and ‘the stat’ stand in the way of Glasgow’s attempt to retain their title. It is going to be tough, writes Iain Morrison

Pat Lam’s Connacht and ‘the stat’ stand in the way of Glasgow’s attempt to retain their title. It is going to be tough, writes Iain Morrison

They not only have to face down the team of the season but also “the stat”. No explanation is required, everyone who follows the Guinness Pro12 is all too aware of “the stat”. It may prove almost as big a hurdle as Connacht’s fearsome belief in their own destiny when Glasgow run out next Saturday.

Not one team has won on the road in the Pro12 semi finals since they were introduced in season 2009-10. Over six years of play-offs there have been 12 semi-finals and every one of them has gone to the home team; it’s a good job that Glasgow are in the mould breaking business.

“They [the players] know about the stat obviously and we were treating last week’s game as a quarter-final,” said Townend last week. “We were so desperate to get a home semi-final. We know have a second chance and we learned a lot. We have to be 10 to 20 per cent better in all aspects; our skill execution, our emotional control, our tactical awareness which we must put right.”

They got a bit of a shock last weekend. I fancied Glasgow to win that one and so, you suspect, did Glasgow. Still if the Warriors had to stumble it’s better they do so last weekend than next, when Townsend’s team have a chance to make amends.

They hope to have the red-carded prop Sila Puafisi available, although it didn’t look great from the one angle I witnessed. His hearing is next week and Glasgow are down on bended knee, praying to anything that is holy that Alex Dunbar makes a miraculous recovery.

Townsend revealed that the muscular centre did not damage his anterior cruciate ligament in last Saturday’s match as was initially feared, but he is still doubtful for next Saturday’s replay.

Glasgow need him. The backline is small with the exception of wingers Sean Lamont and Taqele Naiyaravoro. only one of whom will play because Tommy Seymour has made the right flank his own. Sometimes a team has to go back to basics and Dunbar offers Glasgow the sort of go-forward ball that is meat and drink to the other, small and skilful, backs.

In many ways Dunbar is Glasgow’s answer to Bundee Aki. The Kiwi was well flagged ahead of last weekend’s loss but still scored a try from five yards out, carrying two Warriors over the line with him.

“He is a great player. He is the Pro12 player of the year for them, he gets involved a lot, he is a double-figure ball carrier who can make tackles and he is good over the ball.”

Townsend could have been talking about either centre (aside from the Pro12 player of the year bit). If Dunbar doesn’t make the plane the odds will swing markedly towards the home side although it would be difficult to begrudge Connacht or their coach Pat Lam the glory should silverware come their way.

It is sure to be another tight game, just as Glasgow scraped past Munster and then Ulster by a combined total of three points at Scotsoun in the past two seasons. Connacht have been stuffy for years but they now combine that doggedness with a willingness to throw the ball about that makes Glasgow’s own running rugby look conservative by comparison. What, exactly, has changed, John Muldoon was asked.

“Pat (Lam) was quite fortunate he took over quite a young squad when he tried to change the style of play,” replied the veteran Connacht captain who has played for the province since 2004. “We were looking at him thinking: ‘Jeez, does he realise the weather we get here and the conditions we play in?’.”

“But he had a plan and it was about up-skilling ourselves to get there and also our mentality of how we get there, so that we backed ourselves unconditionally no matter what people were shouting at us.”

There will be plenty of shouting next Saturday. Townsend likened the Galway crowd to Scotstoun’s own one-eyed supporters who undoubtedly lifted their team in recent semi-finals.

“The crowd as well are really passionate about their team, very similar to Scotstoun people,” said the Glasgow boss.

“People don’t like playing at Scotstoun because of the atmosphere and over there [Galway] they will cheer for every decision, they will be behind their team with full passion which is great to see.”

Lam gave little hint of the success to come when he made an emotional exit from the (Auckland) Blues in 2012 but he recently replaced Townsend as the Guinness Pro12 coach of the year and deservedly so. Whatever happens next Saturday evening Connacht are the Pro12 team of the year, and equally deserving of the accolade.

Making the playoffs has been a huge achievement for a club that were the whipping boys of the league and for a team that, just two years ago, finished tenth in the table.

Whatever Saturday’s result Connacht have already won, whereas Glasgow won’t be happy unless they defend their crown.

In what is sure to be a tight game, that may just be enough to nudge the balance towards Townsend’s team.