Guinness PRO12: Three reasons why Glasgow can win the title
An astute tactical master of the game, an offloading machine, and staying calm when emotions are high will see Scots to maiden title
Channel your emotion
With club captain Al Kellock and hooker Dougie Hall set to retire, the Warriors have had three practice runs at dealing with the emotions of saying goodbye to some of the club’s favourite sons, with impressive home wins over Cardiff Blues – which also served as the tribute match to the duo – and Ulster twice. Add to that the impending departures this summer of omnipresent assistant coach Shade Munro, as well as big-name players in Niko Matawalu, DTH van der Merwe and Sean Maitland, who have all played important roles in the club’s surge to the top in recent seasons, and there is plenty of extra for motivation for the Scots to end the season with another bang following their destruction of Ulster on the final day of the regular season to finish top of the log. After a second-half capitulation in last year’s PRO12 final against Leinster at the RDS to lose 34-12 – the biggest defeat since the league introduced finals – the emotion of coming close but so far from winning a maiden title is still raw for Gregor Townsend’s sizable squad. They are a better side than 12 months ago and their desire to win is strong but, more importantly, they have grown to become a squad that can channel the emotion of occasions better than their opposition when it matters most, and they should do it again at the Kingspan Stadium in south Belfast.
Contrary to popular belief, the giant Fijian lock (above) has just two hands at the end of rather long arms, rather than tentacles aplenty to bamboozle opposition defences. Like his team-mate and compatriot Niko Matawalu, the forward can create something out of nothing too. The chances he conjures up are not always as obvious as a quick-tap, step and apply the gas method of Matawalu, but they are equally wonderful to see when a support runner cruises through hapless defensive holes after Nakarawa rumbles up and through a defence and gets the ball away in contact. He has few equals in Europe when it comes to his offloading ability, fewer still in in the Guinness PRO12. After he was cited and subsequently banned for three matches earlier in the year for a spot of naughtiness at a scrum against the Ospreys at Scotstoun, Nakarawa has been slow to rediscover his form, but there is no denying that in a match calling for big ball carriers and the need to exploit the smallest of gaps, he is the Warriors’ not-so-secret biggest weapon, and he has shown glimpses of that when sprung from the bench in recent weeks. Against Munster, the Warriors need all the ball carriers they can muster. In all likelihood, that could mean club captain Al Kellock has to make do with a place on the bench in what will be his final game before retirement to accommodate Nakarawa alongside Jonny Gray, who is a competent lineout caller, does plenty of hard yards and makes tackles for fun. If Nakarawa can be a disruptive force in the lineout and destructive in the loose, Kellock won’t complain if all he gets is a late cameo to ensure he goes out with a bang, and surely he will as then Leinster club captain Leo Cullen did 12 months ago.
Talk of the Toon
Already named coach of the season by his peers in the PRO12, Gregor Townsend is undoubtedly a coach with a very bright future ahead of him. Future Scotland head coach? If he wants it, absolutely. Future British and Irish Lions head coach? If he does well at international level, certainly. He may level much of the Warriors’ success at his back-room colleagues and players, but it can’t be denied that the former Scotland outside-half has taken the club to the next level in the last three seasons. With a rotation policy far exceeding anything you’re likely to hear on your local commercial radio station, few if any players at the club can complain of not getting a chance with 52 players deployed over the course of the last eight months, and rarely does Townsend get his game plan wrong. As much as many of the Warriors are young in their professional careers, the same can be said of Townsend in his coaching career. They are learning together and that has been integral to their gradual growth over the seasons. After losing last year’s final, their commitment to review, learn and improve has been impressive, and the openness about their failures refreshing. It hasn’t been the perfect season for the Warriors – all five of their league defeats this season came away from home without a losing bonus point, while they should have at least reached the European Champions Cup quarter-finals – yet they have been the best team in the PRO12, arguably the most improved team, and fully deserving of their place at the top of the table after 22 rounds and place in a second successive final. Munster may have the experience of winning three league titles, but when the Warriors build up momentum, they are very difficult to contain. Expect Townsend to ring a few changes for Munster in a game that could be similar to last year’s semi-final win at Scotstoun. If he gets it right, Townsend’s stock will skyrocket and the Warriors may finally get the wider recognition they deserve.