Pass master Townsend homes in on Pro12 glory for Glasgow Warriors
Coach hopes energy from Scotstoun crowd can spur victory over Ulster
Glasgow Warriors head coach Gregor Townsend: his team have won 16 of their 22 Pro12 games in the regular league. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images
There has always been an element of the innovative about Townsend and as head coach he has brought that to Glasgow Warriors or at least encouraged it. Unafraid of challenge as a player as the game turned professional the year he patented his flip, he pulled on boots in Northampton, Brive, Castres, Natal Sharks, Montpellier and finally the defunct Border Reivers.
In Dublin last weekend for the Pro12 Coach of the Year Award, the Glasgow man appreciates effective rugby, and believes in all its strands, the results and the style.
His philosophy is one that drew its influence from a team who play not 100 yards from where he was speaking in Ballsbridge. At international level it was the All Blacks but in the club game it was Leinster’s play that set the Glasgow template.
“Before I came into the job the teams I looked up to as role models were Leinster at club level and the All Blacks at Test level and those teams move the ball,” he says. “If you really want to win the big games you really have to have an all-round game. If we were to score five tries but lose because the defence was poor or loose or undisciplined then we’d change the way we play.
“Now, there can be more mistakes when you try things. As long as they are mistakes that are pushing the boundaries or plays we can learn from other than sloppy mistakes then we’ll continue to improve. You don’t win games unless you have a very good defence and we put a lot of pride in our defence and a lot of work into it.”
He was appointed to the club by the SRU, having been backs and attack coach with the national team. Since his start there in 2012, the profile of Glasgow Warriors has been steadily growing in the city, the crowds improving.
“More non-rugby fans are coming,” he says. “Our average crowd is over 6,000, where three years ago it was at 3,000. I bump into a lot of people around town who are not rugby fans who feel pride in the city. Whether those fans know we are playing more attractive rugby I don’t know. They enjoy the experience. We haven’t lost a league game for a while at home so obviously we’ve given them the winning buzz over the last year or two.
“We’d 10,000 at the game yesterday (Saturday) and we probably could have sold 15,000. A few years ago I don’t think we’d have thought we were capable of that.”
There is a tangible feeling of progress. Butfor the next step, a trophy is important. Ulster represent a threat but not a fear. Last week’s 32-10 win over them had limited relevance because they rested key players. Townsend will not inflate or diminish the result and he won’t be fooled by it.
“The relevance is we managed to get a semi-final. We are back at Scotstoun so we can get energy from that crowd,” he says.
“We prepared to be playing the strongest Ulster team so the games we looked at were Leinster, Munster. the games before us you could argue they (Ulster) had their strongest teams. It will be back (this week) to preparing for the likes of Best and Pienaar, Henderson and Bowe, those fantastic players.”
Glasgow were disappointed to have lost the semi-final two years ago in Ravenhill and not to have played their best in the final last year.
Both coaches, Townsend and Ulster’s Neil Doak, understand the consequences of defeat but also the margins that separate them.
“I would have thought it would have been hard to imagine that four teams would finish above Leinster,” says Townsend. “Those four teams are very tight together. Ulster will be hugely motivated because two years ago they missed out on a chance of a home final because their stadium was being renovated. This year they have a home final if they beat us.”
For a man who travelled the world, home now has a comforting sound.