Make or break for Glasgow
Gregor Townsend concedes he will have failed to transform Glasgow into a true European power if he cannot find a way to end their Champions Cup hoodoo this month.
The Warriors coach guided the Scotstoun outfit to a Pro12 title 18 months ago but believes Europe’s premier competition is the true measure of success.
Yet Glasgow have never made it past the group stage.
Now Townsend, who will quit Warriors this summer after five years to take up the reins as Scotland coach, has one last chance to break new ground.
With two pool matches left, starting with group leaders Munster at home today, Glasgow remain on course for the quarterfinals. But if they slip up, Townsend concedes his team will once again have to accept being tagged among the competition’s also-rans.
He said: “I believe if we really want to class ourselves as one of the biggest teams in Europe, we have to do well in the Champions Cup. We have to get to quarterfinals and semi-finals and that’s the challenge we have over the next two weekends. Hopefully things go well and that is where
“If we want to class ourselves as one of the biggest teams, we have to do well in the Champions Cup”
we find ourselves months.”
Glasgow sit second in Pool 1 but Townsend knows his side can take nothing for granted.
They trail Munster by three points but lead third-placed Leicester by five. However, the Tigers are likely to take maximum points against a Racing 92 outfit which has effectively thrown in the towel, meaning Glasgow’s final group game at Welford Road should prove decisive.
Victory this weekend would significantly strengthen Townsend’s hand.
However, he warned: “Munster are probably the best team in Europe right now on form.
“We haven’t won four pool games in one season since I’ve been here and normally you need at least four to get out of your section. If we are able to produce that win then we will just have to look at the other results and see where we are ahead of Leicester next week.”
Townsend will send out a team packed one to 15 with players boasting Scotland caps to face the Red Army after recalling full back Stuart Hogg, front rowers Fraser Brown and Zander Fagerson in a couple of and flanker Rob Harley. However, Scotstoun coach Townsend concedes he is relying on his big guns to fire straight and true.
“The 23 we have out tomorrow night is our best group of players and they are really focused for this game,” he said.
“When we play the big games – whether it be the Pro12 or the Champions Cup – we have to put out our best team.
“We have guys like Henry Pyrgos and Simone Favaro out injured. It would have been great to have everybody available but we are very confident with the squad we have got that we’ll do very well.”
Glasgow have lost both of their previous encounters this term.
Their earlier Champions Cup showdown in October came just a week after the death of Munster coach Anthony Foley and Warriors were swept away as a wave of emotion circled round Thomond Park, carrying the 14-man hosts to a 38-17 victory. with Munster
But Townsend reckons it will be Munster who are left quaking this time as the Scotstoun faithful prepare to turn up the volume.
“Our supporters are magnificent,” said the Warriors coach. “This is an uncomfortable place to play for the opposition because of the noise that is generated by our supporters.
“It’s a great place for us to play, though, not only because of the noise but because of the connection the players and supporters have.
“It’s great to see all the different songs the supporters in the East stand sing, especially when the opposition substitutes are warming up – last week it was the Hokey Cokey.
“As coaches, we sit and say what a brilliant atmosphere. Saturday will be a special atmosphere and that all helps to drive the players forward.”
EDINBURGH OPT FOR EXPERIENCE FOR HARLEQUINS TIE
DIFFERENT BALL GAME: Stuart Hogg has a kickabout during training, while , inset, Gregor Townsend is all smiles