GREGOR Townsend enjoyed taking centre stage at the slick Guinness Pro12 launch in London yesterday, but is now keen to get the title defence under way.
Almost three months after that glorious night in Belfast when Glasgow Warriors defeated Munster 31-13 to deliver Scottish rugby a first major professional club trophy, Townsend and his temporary captain, Peter Murchie, arrived at the launch with the silverware – and they won’t be giving it up without a fight.
I believe Edinburgh are going to be a real threat… so watch out for themGregor Townsend
Townsend took part in a Q&A during the formal proceedings and said afterwards: “It’s good to be at the top. There has been times when we have come to season launches like this and not been asked many questions by journalists, so it’s great and builds the excitement.
“Things like today illustrate how professional the league has become. It’s changed a lot over the last couple of years and it gets us excited about the start of the season.”
Glasgow fly out to Nova Scotia today to complete their final pre-season preparations with a game against Canada in Halifax on Saturday before opening their Pro12 defence seven days later at home to Scarlets.
The champions could have close to a full 15 missing through the World Cup, with lock Leone Nakarawa also with Fiji, but Townsend said: “It’s a fact of life. The great thing is that our players are going to play in the World Cup. They’re going to come back better players and it will be great to watch them on that stage. It shows our club in a good light.
“But the really exciting thing for me as a coach is we’re getting the chance to work with a new group of players who are really impressing us. They’re working really hard and the tough time will actually be when everybody comes back.”
Townsend pointed to the increased strength in depth that has built up in the last couple of years, noting that when the squad gathered for the club’s kit launch last week, there were 56 players in the room.
The Guinness Pro12 coach of the year said: “Look at scrum-half where we are in the fortunate position of having a British and Irish Lion [Mike Blair], Grayson Hart, who is a Scotland international, and [Scotland Under-20 cap] Ali Price. So there are guys here with us who are going to make it difficult for those who are away to get back in the team.”
When assessing the main threats to Glasgow’s crown this season, Townsend said he expected former champions Leinster to bounce back from a surprise fifth-place finish and a big push from Scottish rivals Edinburgh.
Townsend said: “Who would have thought last season that Leinster wouldn’t make the semis having made the last four or five finals? I think there will be challenges from elsewhere this year. Connacht had a really great season last year and could really attack this World Cup period with a lot of confidence.
“I believe Edinburgh are going to be a real threat. They showed a lot of improvement during last season and it will be as if they have signed three new forwards in the likes of Grant Gilchrist, David Denton and Cornell du Preez, who all missed a lot through injury. Then they’ve signed the Super Rugby-winning captain in Nasi Manu.
“They’re going to have a formidable pack and their attack play through the backs can be really impressive. So watch out for them.”