Gregor Townsend spoiled for choice during run-in

GLASGOW coach Gregor Townsend is in the enviable position of having a rich crop to pick from again as he plots an exciting five-match finale to the regular league season that will determine whether the Warriors can make a genuine run for the RaboDirect PRO12 title.

Glasgow are currently in top spot, ahead of Ulster on points difference, but only the bottom three clubs, Edinburgh, the Dragons and Italians Zebre, are mathematically out of the running for a top-four play-off spot.

Realistically, the race involves six clubs – Glasgow, Ulster, Leinster, Scarlets, Ospreys and Munster – with 18 points separating first and sixth, 12 between first and fifth and Glasgow and Ulster holding an 11-point advantage over fourth-placed Scarlets.

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Leinster are tucked behind in third, just two points behind the top two.

Glasgow play all but Ulster over the next seven weeks, two at home and two away, starting with Leinster in Dublin on Saturday. A victory would be a huge step towards securing a first top-two finish and, with it, a home semi-final for the first time.

Townsend’s selection skills will now come into play and nowhere is the headache greater than at scrum-half, where former Scotland captain Chris Cusiter is back to fitness after missing the entire season so far with a shoulder injury.

He has yet to play any games, however, and so will struggle to win a place ahead of Glasgow’s top player in recent games, Niko Matawalu, with Henry Pyrgos also returning to the camp from Scotland duty.

The Warriors who were heavily involved in Scotland’s Six Nations campaign have been given this weekend off to recover from the intensity of Test matches, with five games having been played in seven weeks.

Winger Sean Maitland and full-back Stuart Hogg are both nursing knocks, while stand-off Duncan Weir started Scotland’s last two games. Prop Ryan Grant started every match and centre Sean Lamont played every minute of the campaign.

However, Glasgow skipper Alastair Kellock is eager to return after playing around 85 minutes off the bench in the last two Tests, as are Pyrgos, Ryan Wilson, Dougie Hall, Moray Low, Ruaridh Jackson and Rob Harley, who had various shorter roles in recent weeks.

Townsend is keen to use the experience at his disposal but is wary of upsetting the rhythm in key combinations at the heart of the Warriors’ four successive wins during the Six Nations period. But, having used 51 players in 17 league matches and six Heineken Cup games so far this season, he may need all of those players in what promises to be a bruising run-in.

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Prop Mike Cusack and openside flanker Chris Fusaro are back from injury but, like Cusiter, yet to play any matches.

If Townsend can find a way to fit all his players into his strategy, he can build on predecessor Sean Lineen’s foundations and claim Glasgow’s third play-off spot in four years, in his first season as head coach.