Glasgow were handed an unexpected bonus ahead of tomorrow’s key league match against the Cardiff Blues when Scotland released international centre Mark Bennett back to the club.
Bennett will team up with Alex Dunbar in the Warriors’ midfield in what looks suspiciously like Vern Cotter’s best centre pairing when both men are fully fit.
Bennett played in the three Six Nations matches so far but those were his only games since injuring his shoulder in a European tie against Racing 92 early in January. The unlucky 13 has shown occasional flashes of inspiration but he had yet to scale the heights he reached in the Rugby World Cup last year.
“I was hoping they would release Peter [Horne] because he’s been out injured, too,” said Townsend. “We haven’t seen Mark much because he went straight from injury into Scotland, whereas Peter came back two weeks ago. He’s in the Scotland squad. Alex has had one game and did pretty well in that game.”
Tim Swinson is also released by Scotland and takes his place in the second row alongside Greg Peterson but Cotter has held on to Ryan Wilson and Josh Strauss so Leone Nakawrawa fills in at No 8 with Adam Ashe still fighting his way back to fitness. Twin flankers Chris Fusaro and Rob Harley, both recently re-signed with Glasgow, start on the flanks while Scotland U20 skipper Scott Cummings has a place on the bench.
Glasgow enjoy a run of three successive matches at home after which they play the twin Italian teams before travelling to both Connacht and Scarlets in the final run-in. A big haul of points over the next five games would go a long way to securing that play-off place.
“I presume we will have to go to Connacht and Scarlets and win whether we win five games in a row up until then or not,” argues Townsend. “Those games will really count, for play-off places, for Europe, for a home semi-final. We know the run-in but the focus is obviously this weekend.
“Getting back here to our lovely pitch is going to be great,” he said with sarcasm. “We have a tough game. Cardiff are a much better side than they were at the beginning of the year. They have improved hugely defensively. Graham Steadman, the ex-Scotland coach, is working really well there. I think in the last four games they have conceded an average of just 11 points. Edinburgh only scored three pints against them. Ulster lost last week and missed out on a bonus point. They [the Blues] lost by a point to Leinster so we know this is a really tough game for us.”
As Townsend’s suggests, the pitch may become an issue since Scotstoun spent much of January underwater and the damage is obvious. The ground staff have done what they can but any scrum in the areas without grass is sure to cut up the surface pretty badly, hence Townsend’s pleas for an artificial surface in time for next season, not that he thinks the surface will be a factor in tomorrow’s match.
“I don’t think the pitch will affect us, it will be the weather,” the coach insisted.
“It’ll be fine. It doesn’t look great because there are patches on it but underneath its fine.
“We played on a pitch last week [at Newport] that had 40 tons of sand on it just a day before the game so it’s going to be a firmer condition than that. The weather is supposed to be dry at the weekend so that’s the biggest factor in whether you can move the ball around.
“Now the advantage we had playing at Kilmarnock [on the artificial pitch] when the weather was poor during the day didn’t really make any difference to the game.
“So fingers crossed there is no rain on Sunday morning which is what I believe the case is.
“We love playing here, we have a very good record at Scotstoun, so we owe it to our supporters that the game we come back we play a very good game of rugby.”