GREGOR TOWNSEND could hardly have been more emphatic on Friday, when shooting down in flames recent newspaper reports suggesting that he may be poised to leave Glasgow Warriors to take over from Conor O’Shea as director of rugby at Harlequins.
The 42-year-old marched into the media room at Scotstoun on Friday morning (ahead of the team announcement press conference for Warriors’ crucial Pro 12 match against Scarlets this afternoon) and broke with convention by answering the first question before it had been asked.
“This will be the only thing I will be saying on this. There was a story in the press that is a complete non-story. I am contracted here next year and that is where I will be staying. People get linked to jobs all around the place but, as you know, I signed a contract for next year and I’m really looking forward to being here next year. I wasn’t approached by them, and will not be talking about this again,” he stated.
Within a few hours of Townsend’s statement, certain sections of the English press were linking former South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer with the Harlequins job, suggesting that a scatter gun approach to identifying O’Shea’s successor has been adopted – whereby any available or ‘buyable’ coach is likely to be put in the frame.
Certainly, the article in London’s Evening Standard, which linked Townsend with the job on Thursday was light on credible sourcing, stating only that: “… it is understood that interest in him is a major topic of conversation around the Scottish team’s squad”.
If that is the case, then uncertainty over their gaffer’s future is clearly not undermining the mood of the team. They are on a seven match winning streak, and are poised to move into the top two in the Pro 12 table if results go their way this weekend.
The Warriors are currently third in the table, having leapfrogged the Scarlets last weekend when the Welshmen lost to local rivals Cardiff Blues.
Townsend admits he was surprised by that result, but doesn’t think it is likely to make life any easier for his team this week.
“Cardiff played a certain type of rugby and they got their rewards from that. We expect the Scarlets to be improved from that game, and they’ve already beaten us this season so we know how tough it will be. We did learn a fair but from that game,” he said.
Scarlets have had less than ideal preparation to this crucial match with as many as 20 of their players struck down by a stomach bug during the week, prompting coach Wayne Pivac to cancel training on Thursday – but Townsend says he expects the home team to be in tip-top condition come kick-off time.
“It sounds like what we had last week in Italy. If it’s a similar bug, it’s out of the system in 24 hours. Most of our backs were down but they still played at the weekend. We expect Scarlets to be at full strength,” he said.
Scarlets are bolstered by the return from injury of full-back Liam Williams (making only his second appearance for the club this season) and stand-off Steve Shingler.
Warriors, meanwhile, have lost Peter Horne to concussion but still have an incredibly potent looking backline. They have chosen not to field an out-and-out open-side, with Ryan Wilson being told to bring an extra physical edge to the number seven jersey instead.
In Leone Nakawara and Tagele Naiyaravoro they have two of the most exciting players in Europe at the moment ready to make an impact off the bench.
THE LOWDOWN –
VENUE: Parc y Scarlets, Saturday 16th April kick-off 3.15p
KICK-OFF TIME: 3.15pm on Saturday 16th April
Scarlets: L Williams; S Evans, G Owen, H Parkes, D van der Merwe; S Shingler, G Davies; R Evans, K Owens, S Lee, J Ball, D Bulbring, M Paulino, J Davies, J Barclay. Subs: K Myhill, P John, P Edwards, G Earle, M Allen, A Davies, A Thomas, S Hughes
Warriors: S Hogg; T Seymour, M Bennett, A Dunbar, L Jones; F Russell, H Pyrgos G Reid, F Brown, S Puafisi, T Swinson, J Gray , R Harley, R Wilson, J Strauss. Subs: P MacArthur, J Yanuyanutawa, Z Fagerson, L Nakawara, T Holmes, G Hart, D Weir, T Naiyaravoro.
KEY BATTLE: Samson Lee versus Gordon Reid
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“We have to make sure that defensively we’re up to the challenge and line speed will play its part. They’re looking like definite contenders and top four material. It’s going to be a big challenge but we owe our crowd and we owe ourselves a big performance after our last outing …” – Wayne Pivac (Scarlets)
“You need to bring physicality against them. You look at their back row, at Jake Ball, at Rob Evans in the front row, at hooker Ken Owens – these are physical players. So in terms of our ball-carrying and our support at the breakdown, that’s what we’re looking for from the back-row but also the second-row … ” – Gregor Townsend (Warriors)
VERDICT: Warriors firepower off the bench clinches it.