10 BIG QUESTIONS FOR GREGOR TOWNSEND

Image: Fotosport / David Gibson

GREGOR TOWNSEND on …

… playing a Leinster team missing eleven internationalists at Scotstoun on Friday evening [18th March 2016]?

“They are [missing a lot of key players] but they’ve got a really strong squad. If you look at their back three for this match, they’ve got: Zane Kirchner, who played [for South Africa] in the World Cup; Isa Nacewa, one of the best players to have ever played for Leinster; and Dave Kearney, who is back from injury after playing for Ireland a few weeks ago.”

“Ben Te’o has been one of the best players, if not the best player, in the Pro 12 this year at centr, and Garry Ringrose in the other centre is a rising star in Irish rugby.”

“So, we know it is a quality team, and that’s been the hallmark of Leinster’s success – producing that quality no matter who puts the jersey on. And they’ve shown that during this Six Nations when they’ve had some really good wins.”

“This is a massive game for both clubs – they can go top of the league, while we know that taking four points away from a team that are already in the top four will help our chances of making it into the play-offs.”

… the stand-off crisis he has faced this week?

“I didn’t enjoy the Scotland [versus France] game very much because of Finn Russell’s injury, although I enjoyed the performance and the atmosphere.  I was texting our coaches and Nathan Bombrys, our MD, about the fact that even if Finn was fit then Duncan [Weir] was probably going to be with Scotland all week.”

“At that stage Gregor Hunter was on the way back from injury so we thought he would be available [but he has still not completed the graduated return to play protocol for concussion]. Henry Pyrgos actually ran at ten for us on Monday but then he got called up to the Scotland squad. Our other options were also guys who do not have stand-off as their primary position, whether it was Grayson Hart or Glenn Bryce or Fraser Lyle, and other people would do that job. I almost had to get my boots back on myself.”

… re-signing Rory Clegg on Wednesday and throwing him back in at the deep-end against Leinster two days later?

“We had him here on a short-term contract during the World Cup and he played really well for us. He got into our shape really well, the way we want to play suits his strengths – he’s a good passer and has good awareness of space. And the big key is his kicking game – he’s an excellent goal-kicker.”

“He had a contract with us up until the end of October and we would have loved to have kept him but we didn’t have the budget to do that, and with Finn and Duncan coming back there was going to be less opportunity for him. He had been approached by a French club and we managed to bring forward his contract release by a week to allow him to go to Oyonnax.”

“It’s been a bit up and down for him since then. Two weeks after he joined they sacked the coach, and they’ve had a lot of changes with players coming in and out, and the results show that they have obviously not had a great season. But he has played Champions Cup, I watched him against Saracens and Ulster.”

 “We kept in contact and we knew he had only signed for a season, so with Duncan leaving to Edinburgh, here was someone who will be available, potentially, during the Six Nations when Finn and Peter Horne are likely to be away, so we are delighted to have signed him.”

 “So, we had already signed him for next year, which we were due to announce this week, and it seemed to make sense [to bring that forward] if it was possible and we managed to get it all done in time. In the last two weeks, since we confirmed the deal, he has informed his club and he has not been involved with them, so we were hoping that they would be okay with him leaving, and having lost at the weekend it is likely that they will go down.”

“They were pretty quick [in agreeing to early release]. His agent helped smooth that process over, and from their point of view, if they know a player is leaving and they don’t have to pay his wages for the last two or three months, then it has worked out really well.”

“He has not played the last two or three weeks, so he’s fresh, let’s put it like that. But he got back into the swing of things pretty well today. Given the way he’s trained, I can’t wait to see him play – and he’s really looking forward to playing again.”

… Mark Bennett’s return to the Warriors after being dropped by Scotland?

“The other day at training, we highlighted his attitude to the group, his work-rate and skill, as it was amazing.”

“He was excellent against Cardiff. I regret the fact that everything was about him not getting the ball down for that disallowed try because I thought he was excellent.

“He made two line-breaks and to come back with that positive attitude and show his ability with the disappointment of not being in a Scotland jersey shows what a person and a player Mark is.”

“It is great for us that we have him tomorrow night. Their centres are quality so to have Mark and Sam Johnson up against them is good for us. We want the ball in Mark’s hands as much as possible.

“You learn from these moments when you maybe don’t agree with the selection – I know I never agreed with the decision when I was dropped. You go: ‘Right, how can I make sure this doesn’t happen again?” And that is what he has been doing and with that you get your rewards.”

… Leone Nakarawa’s future at Glasgow Warriors?

“Obviously Leone is contracted and that’s where it stands, so no more comment on that.”

… signing Italian winger Leonardo Sarto from Zebre last week?

“Leonardo was someone we were tracking for a while. He’s always played well against us, always stood out well in the stats even though his club tend to finish close to the bottom, and I thought he played really well against Scotland a few weeks ago.”

“When you are signing a quality player there is going to be some downside and we know he is going to be playing international rugby [during the Autumn Tests and Six Nations windows]. Now, when we signed Taqele [Naiyaravoro], he hadn’t been capped for Australia, and he has since been capped by them, so the appeal for him is to go back home and play for the Wallabies.

“We have a number of Scotland players who we lose during the Six Nations and it’s great for them. We know we will only get them at certain times of the year, and Leonardo will fall into that category, which means we have to have a strong group of wingers. He’ll be competing hard for a place with the likes of Rory Hughes and Lee Jones. And we’ll be hoping they are involved during the Six Nations as well, so it means somebody else gets an opportunity during that period.”

“Simone Favaro has been excellent [since signing from Treviso last summer]. You get lucky with someone like him, who wanted to leave for rugby reasons and get that experience away from Italy. He already had a contact in our organisation with our analyst who thought highly of the club. We are hoping the same thing will happen with Leonardo, and a rugby experience away from Italy will help him flourish – but he’s got to work as hard as Simone has worked.”

… the Warriors’ form this season?

“It wasn’t lacking earlier in the season, the performances were really good during the World Cup, but it was lacking during the 1872 Cup. Then we had a run of really tough games but we started to pick up. We played much better against Northampton away and in the Racing home game.”

“Since then we have played to maybe 70-80%, we know that we have to get close to 100% going forward. In the Cardiff game some of our play in the first half was as good as it has been all season, but we weren’t as accurate in the second half and you won’t get away with that against a team of Leinster’s quality.”

“The good thing is that we have had two weeks to prepare for this match. We had tough sessions last week and then a full week this week so we are expecting an improved performance from the team.”

“We look at things week to week and there are challenges. I really enjoyed the World Cup period, maybe that should be your most challenging time when you have 21 players away, but it was great to see our young guys coming through and playing well.”

“That is rugby. After this game we will have six games to go with all our Scotland guys back and that is just as much of a challenge keeping everyone happy.”

… player recruitment and retention for next season?

“I think it always has been very hard. When the players are going really well they become targets for other clubs, and obviously when you are up against the French and English teams with their rising salary caps and budgets then it will be tough – but we have 38 international players in our squad, and to be able to do that shows both the funding we get and most importantly that the players want to play for you.”

“Players want to be in an environment where they will improve and be rewarded for the work they put in. It is about finding the players who will help you win more games but also who you can see developing to become excellent players. We take that side of our job very seriously.”

“I’m delighted that we signed Corry Flynn, an All Black, but I would never have thought that we would be doing that. Because All Blacks and current South African or Australian internationals come with an asking price which Toulon, Racing, Bath and Saracens can match, but we can’t match. So we’ve got to find players who are going to be very good, but who we can afford.”

… whether Mike Blair’s concussion could spell the end of his rugby career?

“Potentially. It is a blow for Mike, he got back after six to seven weeks out and just felt headaches again after the Dragons and Cardiff Blues matches. We will see what happens over the next few weeks.”

“Certainly, Mike will be given every opportunity to make a recovery and he always feels disappointed for his team mates when he can’t play which is a really good attitude to have.”

“We have him helping out in other ways. Part of the reason we brought him back to Scotland was to be involved in coaching, so he is presenting to me tomorrow on next week’s opponents’ Ulster, and he has made a big impact on the backs, especially Ali Price. So he will have a big role to play next year whether he is playing or coaching.”

… how long until Jonny Gray and Finn Russell are fit again?

“Finn trained today [Thursday] and he was doing pretty well. He is at the stage where he can do non-contact so he was running Leinster plays and it was great to have him there.”

“Jonny didn’t train, but he says he is starting to feel better. We will see what happens next week and if he makes a great recovery then he may be considered.”

“Two or three weeks for Jonny, and Finn should be available next week”

Glasgow Warriors team to face Leinster on Friday 18 March at Scotstoun Stadium, kick-off 7.35pm, live on Sky Sports 3 –

15. Peter Murchie (Captain)

14. Lee Jones

13. Mark Bennett

12. Sam Johnson

11. Rory Hughes

10. Rory Clegg

9. Grayson Hart

1. Gordon Reid

2. Fraser Brown

3. Sila Puafisi

4. Greg Peterson

5. Leone Nakarawa

6. James Eddie

7. Simone Favaro

8. Adam Ashe

Replacements

16. James Malcolm

17. Jerry Yanuyanutawa

18. Zander Fagerson

19. Scott Cummings

20. Tyrone Holmes

21. Ali Price

22. Nick Grigg

23. Glenn Bryce

Not available due to injury: Alex Allan (concussion), Mike Blair (concussion), Kevin Bryce (shoulder), Chris Fusaro (concussion), Ryan Grant (arm), Gregor Hunter (concussion), Pat MacArthur (glut / hamstring), Fergus Scott (shoulder) and Richie Vernon (shoulder).

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David Barnes
About David Barnes 1326 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.