Gregor Townsend on Glasgow’s start to Pro12 season

LOOKING back at the hard-fought 22-20 victory over Leinster in our opening Guinness Pro12 fixture, there were a number of positive areas to our play.

Cian Healy, left, and Mike McCarthy get to grips with Glasgows Mark Bennett. Picture: SNS
Cian Healy, left, and Mike McCarthy get to grips with Glasgows Mark Bennett. Picture: SNS

We were very encouraged by how we started the game, both in terms of the speed of our game and the accuracy of our contact work.

Combined with some intelligent support lines and our offloading ability, we were able to score three tries against one of the best teams in Europe.

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There was also a ferocity and intensity to our defensive work that bodes well.

That said, some of our attacking rugby wasn’t as accurate as we would have expected, but then that was always likely to be the case in the first game of the season.

We also had opportunities to further extend our lead just before half-time and our inability to achieve this wasn’t down to a lack of effort: indeed it was pleasing to see our players in such good physical shape at the very start of the campaign. Leinster proved once again what a quality side they are, as they kept their belief and their discipline and came very close to leaving Scotstoun with what had looked at one stage to be an unlikely win.

As such the closing ten minutes of the game have underlined to our group that we must keep our standard of performance at a high level for the entire match, and never give the opposition a chance to get back into the game. This is particularly the case when we take on the best teams in our competition. Any match we play is an opportunity for us to learn and get better, so there was lots to absorb from Saturday’s display, particularly in those closing minutes.

We’ve been working on improving in a few areas over the last few days, including making better and more accurate decisions in our third of the pitch, how we secure the ball and then how we put pressure back on the opposition.

Also, how to ensure that we finish off our good approach play, reacting to alternating speeds of ball and different defensive structures with the best attacking option.

Our first 60 minutes have given us a really solid foundation to build on for the rest of this season, while the character the players showed in the last two minutes will be essential in the weeks and months of rugby still to come.

The extra 24 hours’ recovery from Saturday’s contest with Leinster has benefited us, as after such a physical game another day’s rest is always welcome.

While we are obviously delighted to have got our campaign off to a winning start against the champions in such an exciting game, we know that Cardiff Blues will provide a very different test for us on Sunday.

Clearly our two defeats by Cardiff in the Heineken Cup last season, home and away, were the key factor in our failure to get out of the pool section of the tournament.

Particularly in our loss in the Welsh capital in that competition, Cardiff were aggressive in the tackle area and we turned over the ball on too many occasions.

They have some fine players like Rhys Patchell, their young stand-off, whose 21-point haul in the Blues’ 41-26 defeat of Zebre was the biggest individual points contribution of the opening weekend in the Pro12.

At scrum-half Lloyd Williams is another player we rate highly and he was among the tries, just like their powerful winger Alex Cuthbert, a British Lion and a proven finisher at the highest level.

With the Welsh captain Sam Warburton at openside and Matthew Rees and Adam Jones in the front row the Blues have a spine of Welsh Grand Slam winners in their side.

On top of that Cardiff have a new man in charge in Mark Hammett, the former All Black player and Wellington Hurricanes head coach. From what I saw of their opening game with Zebre they are looking to play a more expansive game and were clinical from counter attack and turnover ball. One thing’s for sure, and that is if Mark gets Cardiff to counter attack like the Hurricanes have done the past two years, then opposition defence coaches will have lots of preparation work to do this season!

With a five-try bonus point success behind them, Cardiff will no doubt be bullish about their prospects against us on Sunday.

While we know just how stiff the test awaiting us at the BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park will be, we must focus on the rugby we aspire to play and make sure we execute it to the best of our abilities.

The 80-20 principle of business applies a lot in the sporting world, and we tend to spend 80 per cent of our week looking at making sure that we get our game in place and executing our strategy in attack and defence.

The remaining 20 per cent is seeing where there may be opportunities in the opposition we are facing that week, and what we have to do to counter their strengths.

An additional factor to consider this weekend is the 3G artificial surface that covers the Arms Park. It’s great to play on and often creates the high-tempo rugby which our players love producing.

However, it’s important that we don’t let the pitch dictate how we play. We must be accurate in our performance, and also apply pressure on Cardiff for 80 minutes.

Scots have to battle hard - and it won’t get any easier

It’s great that rugby is back. Friday night in the Townsend house was dominated by the sport and there was no way that I was giving up my grip on the TV remote control!

The night before our game with Leinster I had the laptop open watching Munster versus Edinburgh while also channel-hopping on the TV between three other live European rugby games.

I thought it was a huge effort from Edinburgh to beat Munster in Limerick as Thomond Park is one of the hardest venues in Europe to record a win. It was a really encouraging display from the capital side and also for Scottish rugby.

Playing well in your first game of the campaign underlines that the work done during pre-season has been of real benefit and improved the players both in their conditioning and rugby ability. But with 21 league games to go, much more important is how we perform week-to-week.

Both Edinburgh and Glasgow have the challenge of facing two of the other victorious teams from the first weekend of the Pro12, in Connacht and Cardiff. This means that there can only be a maximum of three sides in our league that can have a 100 per cent record after the first two matches and this reinforces the widely-held view that our league looks like being very competitive this season.

It goes without saying that we’re really looking forward to the second instalment on Sunday down in Wales.