When Gregor Townsend took over as head coach of Glasgow Warriors in 2012 he viewed it as a welcome escape from the international arena, which he confessed yesterday he hadn’t enjoyed all that much.
The final whistle of this evening’s match between Glasgow and Edinburgh will mark his return to Test coaching but the former Scotland and Lions stand-off believes that being the top man makes it completely different to the frustrations he endured as national backs and attack coach under Frank Hadden and then Andy Robinson.
“I didn’t enjoy the Scotland job I had, especially comparing it to the one I’ve had here,” said Townsend. “There were a couple of reasons for that. One, it was my first real coaching job, although I had been assistant to Andy at Edinburgh, and I really wanted to coach all the time. Being with Scotland didn’t give that opportunity.
“Now, having had five years as a head coach I believe that this is what I enjoy doing best. I’m a better coach than I was back then, but I still have a lot to improve.
“The experience with working with players who will be with Scotland, and the experience of working as a head coach, that’s what I enjoy.”
That begged the question that he may miss the day-to-day involvement that club rugby offers in comparison with the limited time he will have actually working with the international squad.
“I know why I didn’t enjoy certain aspects before and I know now how I would manage it better,” he answered. “Having that element of control as a head coach is going to help. There are things that will help me, having more time to look at and improve things.
“The fact I went through that as an assistant and as head coach here, I believe I am in a better position now.”
As Townsend prepares to succeed Vern Cotter as Scotland coach, naming his squad for the summer tour to Australia, Fiji and a Singapore Test with Italy early next week, he can reflect on a fabulous five years which have seen steady progress year on year. After taking over from Sean Lineen, who had already achieved a play-off finish, Townsend took Glasgow to the semi-finals again, to a final, then won one, before reaching the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup for the first time in the club’s history. It is a clear upward trajectory which has convinced the SRU chiefs to give him the top job at the age of 44.
“I always thought there was great potential here and already there were a lot of good things happening,” said Townsend as he looked back to when he first took the job.
“From a rugby perspective the team had a really good defensive record the season before which proved how hard they worked and worked for each other. It was a solid base. What we’ve tried to do is have that game-focused, skill-focused look to attack whenever the players felt there was an opportunity to attack.
“The way the players responded and took that on was way ahead of what I expected that year, the first year. The number of tries we scored was hard to believe but that showed the ability of rugby players we had then and still have now.
“We’ve had guys coming through our academy every year and it’s been fascinating to see how players have developed and really taken control of the game plan. Today’s a day [eve of match] I love coaching because the players set their goals, they discuss how they are going to play and they run the session. Tomorrow it will be them that win the game.”
While clearly disappointed that this season has not resulted in the now expected place in the Pro12 semi-finals, Townsend believes he is handing over a strong squad for incoming coach Dave Rennie to work with and build upon next season when he arrives from the Waikato Chiefs.
“Every year for the last few years we had four or five guys graduating from the academy to pro level and that’s a testament to the young Scottish players coming through
“I’ve seen the academy group for next year and it’s strong. I’m sure those players will go on to win pro contracts.
“The coaching staff coming in spearheaded by Dave Rennie are a real strong fit from what works here, strong culture, hard-working players and a real skill and attack focus, you see that in the Chiefs in their game. I’m looking forward to seeing how they play and I know they’re going to improve and get better.”
Townsend has given Cummings and Matt Fagerson starts this evening and said he had no qualms about pitching Lions selections Stuart Hogg, who will be making his 100th appearance for the Warriors, and Tommy Seymour into the fray.
Sean Lamont is named on the bench for what will be the Test cap centurion’s last match before retirement.
“It’s the final game of the season so it’s always an interesting one for everybody,” said Townsend. “Playing at Scotstoun is a bonus, it’s important, we’ve got players in the squad that are leaving.
“I think the final days of the season show the club in its best light, the reaction to the people who are leaving, the numbers that are coming to this game and will be there after the game. I think to have an 1872 Cup game against Edinburgh to end the season is great, so it’s a game we’re all looking forward to. In different circumstances, because we’ve not made the play-offs, it might have been a game we wouldn’t be as much.”