Since the Test windows have just about derailed Glasgow Warriors’ season, you might expect Gregor Townsend, their head coach, fiercely to back any plan that would cut the number of games played when his small army of internationalists are away.
He does; but only up to a point. As he mused about calls for a two-conference system that would cut the number of games, he also pointed out that while the downside is obvious – five of his side’s eight defeats this season have come in matches where they were heavily affected by international demands – there is an upside too. These are the matches that force coaches to blood the players who are going to go on to greatness.
“Short term it definitely affects us, especially when you have tough games to play – Scarlets, Ulster and Ospreys three weeks in a row have been hard,” he observed. “Long term, it is great for these players who want to play professional level and beyond.
“It certainly helped this club grow over the years that players who have played during this period have gone on to become Scotland players or regulars with Glasgow.
“It would help if you are winning in that period as well but we know we have not played at our best. Even with players missing we should have done better these last three games.”
While he is able to welcome back four players from international duties and still has Peter Horne coming back to full match fitness after his injury problems, the problems of trying to pick a side while all your best players are away is perfectly illustrated by the back-row issues that have forced him to shift Richie Vernon back to No 8 instead of his usual position at centre.
“It is an opportunity for Richie to start. He has been on the bench since coming back from injury,” Townsend explained. “The injury to Adam Ashe also meant we were looking for something different in the back row. Richie is capable of playing very well there. He has played international level at No 8.
“There are a lot of similarities between centre and No 8, we are expecting a lot of similar things from our centres and back row in terms of ball-carrying, contact and attacking ability and he has picked up the lineout pretty quickly.”
For all that, and Vernon’s willingness to be as versatile as possible to help the club, it cannot help that a player who has spent most of the season training with the backs is having to pack down with the forwards. The fact is there is no wriggle room left for Glasgow. In fact, it may already be too late for their play-off aspirations and Townsend, pictured, has admitted they probably have to win all their remaining games if they are to give themselves a chance. Even then, they would be relying on other results.
So, while Townsend himself was reluctant to talk in public about needing not just to beat the Newport Gwent Dragons this afternoon but also pick up a try bonus point, that is the reality of where they are and what they need.
To achieve that, they have to get back to scoring tries. While their top side has been able to cross the whitewash at will, the defeat to the Ospreys last week was a perfect illustration of the current team’s problems with the side dominating possession and territory, making twice as many carries as their opponents, but losing the try count four-two.
The key is getting the ball more regularly to their wings, and for Lee Jones, on the right, there is a double incentive at the end of the week where he signed a two-year extension to his contract since this will be his 50th game for Glasgow since switching from Edinburgh.
“Given the results in the last few weeks, it is very important that we win,” he said. “It is important for the club as a whole and for the league going forwards. Really important. We are back at home as well, so we want to put in a good performance for the fans
“The play-offs have not been discussed, that will take care of itself. We need to win the next game before we think further ahead, so we are all buying into putting on our best performance.”