Townsend says scrum-half trio give Glasgow options

Henry Pyrgos, Niko Matawalu and Murray McConnell are battling for the No 9 jersey. Picture: SNS/SRU
Henry Pyrgos, Niko Matawalu and Murray McConnell are battling for the No 9 jersey. Picture: SNS/SRU
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GREGOR Townsend believes that Glasgow are in excellent shape at scrum-half despite the summer departure of Scotland and former British Lions’ No 9 Chris Cusiter to Sale Sharks.

Henry Pyrgos will captain Glasgow at the Richmond Athletic Ground in Warriors’ final pre-season friendly against London Scottish tomorrow as Townsend gives the 25-year-old the opportunity to cement a fine summer on Scotland duty, in which he scored his second try in the dark blue as part of a stunning fightback in the 21-19 third Test win over Argentina.

But the Loughborough ­University chemistry graduate will be pushed all the way in the ­battle to secure supremacy at No 9. Murray McConnell ­returned to the Warriors fold with a fine first-half display against ­England scrum-half Danny Care in last weekend’s friendly with ­Harlequins.

There is also the mercurial Niko Matawalu, who will continue to wrong-foot and infuriate the ­opposition with his unpredictability once again this term.

All of which has allowed Townsend to suggest that the trio will provide Glasgow with a myriad of attacking skills that will allow his side to play with the verve and brio now ­synonymous with the Scotstoun men during the former Scotland playmaker’s two-year tenure as head coach.

“We are lucky that we have three very high tempo number nines in our squad and that the competition for places at ­scrum-half is exceptionally fierce,” said Townsend.

“Clearly we were sad to see Chris Cusiter go earlier in the summer but we are ­delighted to have brought Murray McConnell in and he really adds to the competition with Henry Pyrgos and Niko Matawalu.

“Henry has had a very strong summer with Scotland and built on an excellent season with Glasgow last time around and he will be captaining the side at London Scottish tomorrow.

“But from a Glasgow perspective the great thing is that we have three nines who all give us something different.

“Henry has upped the tempo of his delivery, become more ­aggressive in his sniping around the scrum and, as he has ­acquired more and more top- level game time, his performances have continued to mature. I also feel that Henry learned a great deal from Cus [Chris Cusiter] and he has put that to good use.

“Murray McConnell acquitted himself very well against Danny Care, the England scrum-half, last week in the Harlequins game and really underlined how much he has benefited from his season with Ayr in the Premiership.

“Then, of course, you have Niko, who gives us that X-factor and who can operate on the wing to great effect as well.

“When you lose someone like Cus it can leave a big hole, but I would say that we are in very good shape at nine, going ­forward into the new season.”

The elevation of Pyrgos to the captaincy tomorrow is part of Townsend’s determination to develop and progress a new leadership group that has lost Cusiter to the lure of the English Premiership and Alastair ­Kellock to shoulder surgery.

“With Al Kellock injured and still several weeks away from his return it is important that we utilise our leadership group to the full,” explained Townsend.

“I felt that Josh Strauss did well last weekend against ­Harlequins and that Chris ­Fusaro took that on when he took the field as a replacement but now it is Henry’s turn.

“He showed how well he ­responds to the added responsibility of the captaincy last ­season and I know he is looking forward to the role once again at Richmond.”

The Glasgow head coach also admitted that the extra Scottish dimension of tomorrow’s ­meeting with The Exiles will provide the game with an ­almost derby element that can only be good for Scottish rugby.

But with James Buckland’s side already having encounters with Saracens and Esher under their belts, Townsend was in no mood to play down the size of the challenge ahead.

“In terms of the test we will get from London Scottish we are under no illusions that we will have to produce a very strong performance to give ourselves the positive platform we want going into the Guinness Pro12 opener with Leinster on Saturday week,” he said.

Townsend continued: “They finished fifth in an English Championship that is one of the most competitive leagues in ­Europe.

“Clearly there is a bit of an extra dimension to the game with the whole Scottish ­dimension and it is almost a derby of sorts.

“From the perspective of any Scottish rugby fans down south I hope this is a fixture that will ­really attract them.

“But we have several important objectives that we want to achieve tomorrow.

“Clearly we will rotate the squad to make sure those that did not get game time against Harlequins do so and those that did not get too much will have their time on the park ­increased.

“At this stage, with it being our final pre-season encounter, we want to make sure that ­combinations and calls are working well and really make sure that we have given ­ourselves a very solid platform into the Leinster game.

“In terms of the result, clearly we are looking for a positive one and an equally positive ­performance that shows signs of clear progress from the Quins game.”