It is an oft-repeated truth that games of rugby are won and lost up front but, if you were to pick out the most anticipated clash in tomorrow’s Guinness Pro12 semi-final, it would be the one between the two sets of centres.
The Connacht midfield pairing of Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki has been a big factor in the Irish province’s surge to a first ever play-off and Glasgow know they will need to get the better of them if they are to reach the BT Murrayfield final.
The latest injury to Alex Dunbar, who was looking back to his best, is a blow for coach Gregor Townsend but in Peter Horne and Mark Bennett he still has two international class performers.
If selected for what would be his 100th appearance for the Warriors, Horne is relishing locking horns with the dynamic duo and agrees that there will be an extra responsibility on the shoulders of the numbers 12 and 13 this weekend.
“Bundee’s had a great season, justly voted player of the league and he’s playing really well but nothing motivates you more than playing someone in the form of their life,” said Horne.
“You want to challenge yourself against the best, and it’ll be great fun. We had a big dust up [two weeks ago] and we’re looking forward to going against him again this week.
“Fingers crossed, we can shut him down and have a go at him in attack. He’s kind of central to a lot of things that happen for them, he carries a lot so we’re doing little bits and pieces that will hopefully shut him down, get sort of good contact on him.
“It’s not as simple as just trying to smash him, he’s got great feet and good bounce and can do it all.
“He got them over the gainline a lot last week so it’s up to me to try to stop that.”
The 26-year-old admits the loss of Dunbar is a setback but is confident that he and Bennett can step up to the plate.
“It’s obviously a big blow to lose Alex, he’s been playing really well, back to his best which was great to see,” he said. “But we’re quite lucky, we couldn’t have a much better replacement than Mark [Bennett].
“We’re sad to lose Alex for the rest of the season but Mark’s a more than adequate guy to step into his shoes and I think selection would have been tough anyway, who knows who would have played from the three of us.
“We’ve had a good week’s training and we just want to go over there and put a marker down.”
That 14-7 loss to the same opponents at the same Sportsground venue showed that Connacht will put up a stiff challenge tomorrow but there is confidence in the Glasgow ranks that they can learn from that and put things right.
“They put us under a lot of pressure, played really well and defended really well for periods of that game,” recalled Horne. “I think we lost our shape a little and fell into the trap of slow ball, to slow ball, to slow ball.
“As we held on to the ball and went through a few phases there were chances, and it gives us a lot of hope because, if we have that extra guy, we can put a bit of width on attack and have a crack.
“Especially in the second half, that last 20 minutes, we were sort of chasing rucks and lost our shape a bit, stopped playing. If we can have a good crack and keep 15 on the field we should be good.”
Galway is one of the quirkier destinations in the Pro12, with a vocal home support and more often than not some howling wind and lashing rain to deal with.
The weather forecast for tomorrow suggests that will be the case again but, with what could be viewed as slightly masochistic relish, Horne said it was a place he enjoyed playing.
“It was really good the other week, the atmosphere was tremendous,” he said. “They’ve done really well, a few years ago you’d go over there and there wouldn’t be that many although they were passionate and cheered them on the whole time.
“But it was cracking, running out at the start of the game we were saying it’s brilliant, it gets you going, and gets the hairs on your neck standing up. I’m sure this week will be even better, they’ve got a passionate crowd and we were getting a bit of gyp from the sidelines but that’s always good, it adds to the occasion.
“To go over there and be the first club to win an away semi-final would be massive that’ll be the aim for us.
“They’ve been so good at home, barely lost there and they skelped Munster a few weeks ago.
“They’re playing really well, they’ll have the crowd behind them and their tails up. But it’s a great feeling going over there and trying to silence the crowd, we think we can do that with our defence, we didn’t really do that last week and we want to put them under pressure there.
“We’re mad keen to get out there.”
Unlike the opposition, Glasgow are now seasoned veterans of this knockout stage of the Pro12 campaign and Horne feels that experience can only be an advantage.
“We’ve talked about that,” he said.
“It comes down to who performs on the day but we have over the last few years built up experience and massive games like this come down to one or two little events.
“Even in the final last year, we ran away with it at the end but that game was settled on a couple of little instances, us holding up Paul O’Connell over the line. If they scored there it’s a different game.
“We have to be more clinical this week, we let a lot of chances go last week. Naka [Leone Nakarawa] made a break straight from kick off and we knocked it on, things like that.
“But if we can build pressure and score it’ll take care of itself. We’re looking for our experienced guys to step up and have a big game.”