Gregor Townsend optimistic over summer signings

Glasgow head coach Gregor Townsend  has invested heavily in young talent for the season ahead. Picture: Getty
Glasgow head coach Gregor Townsend has invested heavily in young talent for the season ahead. Picture: Getty
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THE mixture of youth and experience that has underpinned Glasgow’s summer recruitment drive has provided Gregor Townsend with a quiet confidence that his squad is ready to meet the rigours of battle on both domestic and European fronts.

With the exception of the redoubtable presence of former British Lions tight-head Euan Murray, who has returned to his hometown club seven years after he departed for an extended sojourn south of the border with Northampton, Newcastle and Worcester, Townsend’s signing strategy has been astute rather than eye-catching.

There is a further injection of gnarled rugby nous in the shape of abrasive former Munster centre James Downey.

Seasoned Super 15 prop Rossouw de Klerk has arrived from the Cheetahs to nullify the high attrition rate that has bedevilled the Glasgow front-row while adding the necessary extra depth and bite to cope with what will surely be another demanding campaign up front.

Yet Townsend, once more, has also invested his faith heavily in young Scottish talent.

Athletic former Edinburgh prop Alex Allan has agreed a two-year deal, principally to add competition for the loosehead berth.

After a year re-learning his trade at the coalface of Scottish club rugby in the Premiership with Ayr, scrum-half Murray McConnell has been rewarded with a 12-month deal that has provided the former Glasgow EDP player with the chance to finally realise his undoubted potential.

All of which, with Glasgow’s opening pre-season friendly at Scotstoun against Harlequins just a week away, allowed Townsend to look forward with a bullish glint in his eye.

“I am very pleased with the players we have brought in this summer and I feel that both on and off the field of play they will fit in well with the culture we have at Glasgow,” said the Glasgow head coach.

Townsend continued: “We have a nice blend of experience and youth, players who can draw upon years of top level performing in the European and domestic leagues, and younger lads who have great potential and a hunger to make a real impact with Glasgow. We have also added depth in areas where we have been challenged with injury in the past and that was important.

“I am really pleased to have Euan Murray back at Glasgow. He has been one of the top scrummaging tightheads in the European game over the past few years. He is a Glasgow man and has come back to his hometown club and you can see how much it means to him.

“Rossouw de Klerk is a strong scrummager and a powerful carrier and he will give us further competition at tighthead, where he has a wealth of Super rugby experience for a player of just 24.

“James Downey is another player who has fantastic experience. With Northampton he won the European Challenge Cup and last season he played in every game of Munster’s run to the semi-final of the Heineken Cup.

“So he is an inside centre of proven ability and one who is excited about the opportunity he has with Glasgow.

“Each one of these players will inject the type of quality and know-how we wanted to add this summer.”

Yet perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Warriors’ conscription drive has been Townsend’s reaffirmation that he will attempt to retain Glasgow’s strong Scottish core.

With number eight Adam Ashe graduating from the Scottish Rugby Elite Development Programme to earn a one-year contract at Scotstoun, McConnell and Allan also now in harness, there is every chance that the meteoric rise of Finn Russell from relative obscurity to a PRO12 finalist and first-team starter could be rivalled over the coming 12 months.

The Glasgow head coach said: “In terms of Alex Allan I was always impressed with his play in the loose, he is very athletic for a prop and a good ball handler and these are qualities you love to get in a front-row.

“Murray McConnell is a young player whose determination to make it as a professional has really impressed me.

“He was here on our EDP programme and went away to Ayr to really learn his trade in an uncompromising environment and that has given him the confidence to come again at Glasgow.

“While the way Adam Ashe, who has graduated from our EDP ranks into the first-team squad, made the step up on the Scotland tour against South Africa just underlines the composure and belief, combined with his undoubted talent, that will hopefully mean a big future lies ahead for him.

“So these are a group of young Scottish men who I believe will grow with us as a club and who have the right mindset for everything we stand for.”

The date announcement for Glasgow’s first two European fixtures in the inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup against Bath at Scotstoun (Saturday, 18 October) and Montpellier at the Stade Yves-du-Manoir (Saturday, 25 October) combined with the looming of next Saturday’s first build-up friendly against Harlequins has left the Warriors’ head coach purring with anticipation for the impending call to arms.

“The fact that the game with Harlequins at Scotstoun is just seven days away and the announcement of the two European dates really bring it home to you that the new season is just around the corner,” said Townsend.