RaboDirect Pro12: Gregor Townsend backs Glasgow’s line-up
RaboDirect Pro12: Gregor Townsend backs his Glasgow Warriors XV to shine against Munster
Gregor Townsend has insisted that he has selected the best players to lead Glasgow Warriors to the club’s first RaboDirect Pro12 final.
The Warriors head coach has again raised eyebrows after Scotland internationals Stuart Hogg and Duncan Weir were left out of his match-day squad for the semi-final against Munster on Friday.
It was a very tough squad to pick given of the form of the players over the last eight games
“We pick what we believe is the right team to win a game, we reward players for form and that’s why Peter Murchie is in the team.
“Stuart knows he’s probably not had enough rugby in that period. We’re in a great position at full-back, like in a number of positions.
“Peter Murchie was outstanding against Edinburgh, was very good when he came on in that game at the weekend.
“Stuart has played well, he’s not been able to have a full game unfortunately with his back injury—60 minutes in Treviso and 40 minutes there at the weekend, so that’s one reason he’s missed out.”
Townsend conceded that there was disappointment when the squad was made known to the players before 8am on Tuesday morning but, with so many players getting a chance to showcase their ability this season, there was no ill feeling among a squad determined to represent the jersey as best they can.
“It was a very tough squad to pick given of the form of the players over the last eight games,” he added.
“Some players were disappointed not to make it, but they’ve got behind the team. Our Tuesday session was probably the best we’ve had this season.”
That is a word of warning to the club’s numerous detractors who expect Munster to leave Scotstoun Stadium with a win to set up an interprovincial final against rivals Leinster or Ulster despite the Warriors going into the match as the league’s in-form team and bookmakers’ favourites.
After three defeats away from home in recent visits to the play-offs, the Warriors have the best chance yet of reaching the Pro12 final and to a man the Warriors squad has experienced ups and downs and been tested in big matches.
There are hallmarks of last year as tonight’s showpiece approaches.
The Warriors found form at the end of the season and Townsend handed a rare start at outside-half to Peter Horne—another decision questioned, only indiscipline stopped the Warriors from overcoming Leinster in Dublin.
Finn Russell, another relatively unknown prospect outside of Scottish rugby, has been handed a start at 10 this time at the expense of internationals Weir and Ruaridh Jackson, although the latter does make the bench.
“He’s grabbed his opportunity over this period,” Townsend said of Russell.
“Going back to the Cardiff game during the Six Nations when he came off the bench at 10 in the second half—he played very well. He started at 10 the following week against the Dragons, he’s then played really well at 12 in games like Leinster away, Munster away. He started at 10 against Ulster and Treviso, so on each occasion he’s taken his opportunity.
“I don’t know if I’m surprised, but I’m delighted. He had a great summer playing in New Zealand, we had fantastic reports of how he’d gone and came back and played a lot of good rugby for Ayr this year; he’s improved so much.
“He’s always had a really good base in his game, really good catch-pass skills, good evasion on the ball and, most importantly, a really good tackler—one of our best tacklers in the backline—and he’s brought all that into really composed performances when he’s played for us.
“It was difficult because [Duncan Weir] had played well at the weekend. Duncan had played for us when we beat Munster away as well when we had a lot of good attack in that game and it’s really more a credit to what Finn has done and really grabbed the opportunity. All three 10s in the last three games have played really well.”
Townsend has made a point of rotating his players, particularly in the latter half of the season, with 36 players used in the last eight weeks showcasing the strength in depth the club possess as they set a club record of eight successive wins, including an impressive 22-5 win over Munster at Thomond Park.
“What we did over there defensively and in attack was up there with the best we’ve had this season,” Townsend said.
“It’s important the players know what they did their led to a winning performance.
“We’ll need to do more of the same, but we’re also very aware that Munster will play better. They might do things differently than they did in that game, but it certainly gives you belief having beaten them at [their] home.”