By Alan Dymock
IT IS worth noting for a moment what Gregor Townsend is achieving at Glasgow Warriors.
Considered somewhat of a superfluous appointment in the off-season, nipping into the front of a queue few had even thought would be forming behind successful head coach Sean Lineen was Gregor Townsend.
At first it seemed he had been shoehorned into an outfit with a good playoff pedigree, but heading into the last three games of the RaboDirect Pro12 season things are progressing better than those fans would have expected. The outfit are at the top of the table and with confidence sky high and two-week break before facing the Scarlets, Ospreys and Connacht in the last three fixtures, it is expected that the side will consolidate their position and earn a home semi-final.
If ever proof of their quality was needed, the Warriors obliged on Friday night with an obliteration of Munster. Six tries from six different players –including two first-half interception tries and a second-half lung-bursting interception from John Barclay – the team humiliated the likes of Doug Howlett, Ronan O’Gara and Paul O’Connell and sent a message to the rest of the league.
Glasgow have evolved this season. The biting tackles are still there, but the defensive shape is more considered. The patterns more layered and nuanced. The attack smart and, dare we say, effectively.
Last season the Warriors played like shoplifters: snatching discounted victories when all they had looked like plumping for was defeat. Now Townsend reigns and the team play more like they are swapping price tags and shrewdly attaching different labels to items, rather than shoving them down their pants and trying not to act too suspicious.
Granted, his weapons are more jaggy and likely to extract yelps from rivals than when Lineen was in charge. Sean Lamont still carries like a breeze block on wheels, Nikolo Matawalu has been one of the standout surprises of the season, DTH Van Der Merwe is actually fit and firing and Josh Strauss ducks his head, and in the darkness binds them.
However, Townsend must be credited with the successes.
In the years before, Townsend would readily stand in front of a recording device and tell all of all the studies he had read, all the rugby theory he had ingested. He was afforded minutes to waste talking of the trips he had taken to the southern hemisphere to analyse coaching techniques and how to handle cones and bibs differently than the northern hemisphere manuals suggested.
Affording Townsend this suited press folk. They knew it was all gold, because the next day invective would flow and the same pages Townsend was on telling of his rugby brain would be spattered with vitriol as fans wailed about Scotland’s dire attack.
Townsend stuck with it, though. Like the pub comic waiting for his chance to play the SECC, Toony took the jibes and closed his eyes and hoped.
It is working, though. His self-belief was never in question, but now more and more are believing too. He has a tough job maintaining, but finishing at the top of the pile and having a home-semi would certainly earn him some of the respect around Europe that he craves.
They cannot let up. Scarlets away and Ospreys at home represent two of the toughest fixtures in the league, with both Welsh regions scrapping with each other for a place in the playoffs. Glasgow also have to keep honest, with Ulster just a point behind and having a more straighforward run-in, the wing-clipped Dragons, Treviso and Connacht.
Ending the regular season as number one will be a sweet boon for Glasgow and indeed Scottish rugby as a whole. No longer is a Scottish side robbing results all the way into the playoffs.
Now they need to secure a route to the final. After that, who knows? Maybe they can slip the Pro12 trophy down their trousers.