GROUNDHOG DAY comes round for a third time this evening when Glasgow Warriors face Connacht at the Galway Sportsground. Gregor Townsend’s men lost the previous two meetings between the sides at the tail-end of last season, and in the process relinquished their grip on the Pro 12 title they had lifted the year before – but the head coach says that there has been no psychological hangover from those disappointments evident among his charges during their preparation for this campaign’s opener in the west of Ireland.
“I am sure that it will provide motivation for the players involved,” he insisted. “We know what to expect and what worked for us last time and what we need to get better at. But there are slight unknowns in that it is the first game of the season and Connacht only played one pre-season game and had a behind closed door training session with Sale, so maybe they will come with a different playing style. We’ll just have to adapt to that.”
“In terms of motivation: you start against the champions, which is a great challenge; and you start at the place you lost twice last season, which is another great challenge – so we’ll be up for it.”
Townsend points out that there were exceptional circumstances to last season’s disappointments in Connacht. In the final match of the regular season, prop Sila Puafisi got himself red-carded for recklessly diving head first into a ruck. Then, in the play-off semi-final the following week, playmaker Finn Russell suffered horrific head injuries after clashing with team-mate Zander Fagerson.
He does not attempt to use either of those incidents as an excuse, but does point out that they provide a useful context for the squad as they look to make it third time lucky.
“We didn’t deserve to win. We didn’t play anywhere near our potential. We didn’t adapt to the circumstances that happened early on in the [in the play-off match]. There were parts of our play especially after half time when we looked dangerous and we scored a good try but they were the better team on the day,” said the coach. “We have had two big incidents when we’ve played over in Galway. Something like that might happen again and I hope we are a better team for it now in terms of how we get our focus back on what we believe will win us the game.”
THE LOWDOWN –
CONNACHT v GLASGOW WARRIORS
VENUE: Galway Sportsground @ 5.15pm
Connacht: C Kelleher; N Adeolokun, E Griffin, B Aki, M Healy; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham, U Dillane, D Qualter E McKeon, N Fox-Matamua, J Muldoon©. Subs: D Heffernan, R Loughney, J Cooney, L Stevenson, J Connolly, K Marmion, S O’Leary, P Robb.
Glasgow: S Hogg; L Sarto, A Dunbar, S Johnson, T Seymour; P Horne, H Pyrgos co-©; G Reid, P MacArthur, Z Fagerson, T Swinson, J Gray co-©, R Harley, S Favaro, R Wilson. Subs: C Flynn, R Grant, S Puafisi, T Uanivi, L Wynne, A Price, R Clegg, S Lamont.
TEAM NEWS –
Connacht: Two key men from last year in centre Robbie Henshaw and stand-off AJ MacGinty have moved on over the summer, but the team’s success has always been about the collective rather than the individual, so don’t expect this to cause to much consternation with the champions’ ranks.
Glasgow: Finn Russell is still not back in action, but Townsend revealed that the stand-off has started doing contact this week. Josh Strauss, Adam Ashe, Chris Fusaro, Scott Cummings, Fraser Brown, Fraser Lyle, Richie Vernon, Lee Jones and Nemia Kenatale are also out, but are not expected to be missing for more than a few weeks. Mark Bennett is still on holiday after his heroics at the Olympics.
KEY BATTLE: Bundee Aki versus Sam Johnson
WHAT THE COACHES SAY –
“It’s a new season and a somewhat new-look side with just eight who started at Murrayfield in May lining out tomorrow. Today is the last time all twelve teams will be level on points. With five points on offer now our focus is on the process which will give us the best chance of winning. Starting the championship at home is a huge boost and we’re looking forward to experiencing the magical atmosphere here at the Sportsground once again…” – Pat Lam (Connacht)
“Our players have worked extremely hard over pre-season and we’re looking forward to going back to the Sportsground tomorrow night. Connacht are the champions and I’m sure they will be full of confidence playing at home again. They played some outstanding rugby last season and they will be formidable opponents for us. We have an experienced group heading to Ireland, one which will be full of determination to do much better than on our previous visit. It should be a fascinating contest…” – Gregor Townsend (Glasgow)
VERDICT: Warriors have been waiting all summer for this!