Gregor Townsend must have felt like the beleaguered sheriff of a town under siege in a classic spaghetti western on Friday night, as he surveyed the carnage of his team’s epic showdown against Leinster.
His youthful posse of desperados may have seen off the threat of their rivals from Dublin, but not without cost. Three of his backs – Rory Hughes, Sam Johnson and Peter Murchie – had fallen by the wayside with head knocks by the end of the first half and, by full-time, he had used all eight replacements, and none of those switches had been tactical. Scrum-halves were playing on the wing, and hookers filling in at flanker.
Glasgow Warriors had won the battle, but the war was not over yet – and with Ulster ready to ride into town in seven days’ time, Townsend was in need of reinforcements.
He knew help was on its way, with his sizable international contingent set to return from Six Nations duty after Saturday’s match against Ireland – but would they be in any fit state to jump straight back on the horse for a must win match against one of the most powerful sides in the league?
Townsend must have watched the Ireland match through the gaps in his fingers. It was another brutal encounter, and ten of his squad members were involved. So, he would have breathed a huge sigh of relief on Monday morning, when all his top gunslingers strolled into training on Monday morning, feeling fresh and ready for action.
All, that is, except Robert Harley. The big back-rower doesn’t do strolling. He marches or he runs. He will never be the quickest player in the team, but he makes up for that through his work-rate. He will never be the most glamorous ballplayer on the side, but the fans, coaches and team-mates love him because of his commitment and desire.
Glasgow’s Mr Reliable played only 18 minutes for the national team during the Six Nations window, when he came off the bench against Ireland last weekend. But he was 24th man in the squad against both England and France and has been training at Murrayfield throughout the period. He managed to make it back for club duty at the weekend throughout the period, meaning that Friday night’s game is the only one he has missed.
However, even that one game was more than enough, and Harley is now ready to come out all guns blazing as the Warriors aim to secure a top four play-off place from their last six games of the campaign.
“We were watching it together in the Scotland team room – watching the performance and how everybody played and analysing what an effort it was, especially defensively to keep them out and not concede any tries,” he said.
“To put in a hard shift like that for the full 80 minutes across the whole squad was incredible. There were guys coming on earlier than they thought, players playing out of position so there was huge strength of character in the team to get the win.
“The way the guys at Glasgow played during the Six Nations really lifted the squad and hopefully the guys coming back from Scotland can bring back the experience they had in the tournament and raise standards even further.
“We have the confidence [that] we can beat anybody and it is just about putting in the work and putting in good performances on the training ground. Hopefully that translates into Friday night.”