RaboDirect Pro12: Townsend doubts Glasgow can break top two

RaboDirect Pro12: Gregor Townsend doubts Glasgow Warriors can finish in the top two this season

Gregor Townsend believes it is unlikely Glasgow Warriors can make the top two of the RaboDirect Pro12 despite having games in hand over the top four sides.

The Warriors face Scarlets today in what is effectively a shoot-out as the west Wales region look to keep their own play-off hopes alive, but the Warriors head coach feels securing home advantage for the play-offs is probably beyond his side’s reach.

It’s the ability to respond to the mistake itself that defines you as a player

Gregor Townsend

“You’re probably looking for other results to go your way,” Townsend said.

“We do play Ulster, Munster and Ospreys over the next few weeks—they’re all above us—and I’m sure they’ll have some tough games as well, but the way Munster and Leinster have played, not just throughout the season, but especially the last few weeks, they’re the favourites to get the top two.

“We’ve been in top form most of the season, so to be sitting in fifth we know we’ve got work to do as well and eight games in a row is a great challenge for us—six of them being at home—but it’ll mean we’ll have to play very well in that period to get back up in that top four.

“I’m happy where we are as we end the season. We have got to make sure we win those games we’re in close matches with, but it’s a good time now to look forward to this next eight games.”

Townsend has recalled outside-half Duncan Weir to his starting XV at the first opportunity, despite starting all five of Scotland’s Six Nations matches.

But he doesn’t believe the 22-year-old’s international disappointments, including his interception pass which helped France to a narrow win at Murrayfield, will be a factor as he returns to regional rugby.

“The pleasing thing for me about Duncan, I said this to him as well, is that he responded very quickly,” Townsend added.

“When I threw my interception [in 1994], it cost us the game against France—it was one of the last plays of the game and the game was lost on my interception pass—whereas Duncan got back, played well and kicked that goal to put Scotland back in the lead.

“He’ll have learnt about timing of pass and when to pass and when not to pass, but he showed that mental toughness to come back and that’s something he’s worked hard on throughout the season, because a 10 will always make mistakes.

“It’s the ability to respond to the mistake itself that defines you as a player.”

Bouncing back from mistakes is something Townsend knows all too well and he did just that with Scotland and the British and Irish Lions on their successful 1997 tour of South Africa.

But Weir isn’t the only Warriors player who has something to prove after the Six Nations.

It’s part of the learning process for him, like it is for any player when you have an incident like that

Gregor Townsend

Full-back Stuart Hogg is into the first week of this three week ban and can only look on from the stands as his colleagues look to chase down the Ospreys to get back into the top four and Townsend has told him to use the lack of playing time to get ready for his return.

“I think Stuart has learnt a very tough lesson about controlling his emotions, controlling his actions, because they can lead to an event which is a huge blow to him personally and the team,” Townsend continued.

“I’m sure he’ll use that in the right way to make sure that never happens again. He fully understands the magnitude of what could have been a late shoulder barge and it turned out to be the red card.

“It’s part of the learning process for him, like it is for any player when you have an incident like that, whether it’s a mistake you make playing or a mistake you make that leads to a sin binning or red card.

“He’s just got to buckle down now and use this three weeks to work on areas physically and tactically, so when he does get the opportunity to play again he’s in a very good state rugby-wise but also mentally.”

Like the Warriors, the Scarlets have threaded their starting XV with international stars who put Scotland to the sword after Hogg’s red card in Cardiff last week, but Townsend has opted for a more cautious approach to reintegration.

“All the players wanted to play and come back,” he said. “Sometimes you’re saying to them ‘no, it’s for your own good to take some time off this week’.

“Ryan Grant and Ryan Wilson aren’t involved this week, and Stuart Hogg. Alex Dunbar and Duncan Weir have played two games, and Tim Swinson came off the bench so we’d like to give them that continuity – they’re important players for us. Both Ryans should be back and available next week.

“We’ve had a group of players with us throughout the last two months, how long the Six Nations goes on for.

“We’ve played four games in that period and we’ve built up well to the Leinster game which was a really good performance, so when you bring back players that have been involved in a different environment, different tactics, different emotional experiences, it is a challenge, but it’s not a surprising challenge.

“We know it’s going to happen, but it’s about making sure the players are right physically and mentally for when they do come back to play with us, but also getting them used to our patterns again.

“Before we played Leinster, we had Tommy Seymour available, Chris Cusiter was available, Peter Murchie came back and when you’ve got experienced players like that you see the lift in quality at training and we’ve had this week. Both Ryans haven’t trained, but the other guys coming back has certainly been a boost and it creates an extra layer of competition.

“I was really disappointed with how we lost the game against the Dragons, but we played well [at Scotstoun] against Connacht in poor weather and had a very good second-half performance against Cardiff and won down there, and the Leinster game I was very pleased with.”

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