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Glasgow: Players make life tricky for Townsend

There were times during their push towards last season's RaboDirect PRO12 semi-finals when everything fell into place so perfectly for the Glasgow Warriors that it was more tempting to ask Gregor Townsend for his lottery numbers than enquire about his tactics.

That has rarely been the case in the current campaign. At one point, the Warriors' misfiring attack and a few off-field issues meant the questions put to the coach in his second season in charge were mostly variations on a theme of "where did it all go wrong?"

And yet, it has all gone beautifully right for Townsend over the past couple of months as the race for play-off places began to hot up. The try-bonus points that Glasgow could not buy during the first half of the season have started to arrive in the proverbial fashion of London buses, and the semi-final place was secure even before the Warriors humbled Treviso 38-16 in the Stadio Monigo on Friday evening.

Their seventh win on the trot was a performance of controlled, confident rugby by a team coming good at just the right moment. It was, moreover, a powerful illustration of the strength in depth of a side which Townsend tends to change radically from one game to the next. Staggeringly, in the seven-match streak he has not once used the same starting fly-half from one game to the next.

Luck? Genius? A bit of both? In the aftermath of Friday's win, Townsend revealed that he tends to work out his selection strategy around three weeks in advance, but he is not so stuck in his ways as to etch it in stone.

"Games like that throw it all out of sync," laughed Townsend. "Obviously, we've got an eye on the semi-final now so we have to make sure that the players are in form and fit going into that.

"The way the players played tonight makes it really tough to pick the team for next week [against Zebre at Scotstoun] and the semi. Some of them who came in played really well. We also have players coming back from injury, and Sean Lamont and Alex Dunbar are both targeting next week.

"It's a Saturday game so they have an extra day to get ready for it, but it's great to know that the players who are playing just now are playing really well."

However innovative, and often unpredictable, he may be, Townsend has a far deeper understanding of rugby fundamentals than he is given credit for. On Friday, he picked forwards who could subdue the powerful Treviso pack, and a back line that could cash in when the game began to break up. The shifts put in by players such as Jonny Gray and Tyrone Holmes were exemplary; the finishing skills of their third-quarter blitz, when heavy rain started to fall, were astonishing.

So, too, the fitness levels. At a stage of the season when teams often look heavy-legged, there is a spring in the Warriors' steps. The postponement of their festive-period home games against Treviso and Edinburgh was always going to mean fixture congestion at this critical stage, but they have coped with the challenge superbly.

Townsend said: "We knew that these games were going to be really tough. We knew we would have to play eight games in a row towards the end of the season. That, plus a semi-final was a challenge, but the players have been up for it.

"They are a strong set of guys and their fitness is very good. The same thing happened last year when we played some really dynamic rugby towards the end of the season."

Townsend said it is no headache having so many players to choose from. As the knockout stages loom, his biggest challenge is to decide who to leave out. Tommy Seymour failed to make the cut for the semi-final last year; it's fair to say the winger's hat-trick of tries on Friday presented Townsend with a dilemma that many coaches would relish.

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