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Guinness PRO12: Good things coming for those at Glasgow . . .

Fourth, third, second.

The captains of the Guinness PRO12 teams pose with the trophy to launch the new season at the Diageo Headquarters in Park Royal, London
The captains of the Guinness PRO12 teams pose with the trophy to launch the new season at the Diageo Headquarters in Park Royal, London

Glasgow's direction of travel in the PRO12 standings over the past three campaigns certainly backs up the suggestion - voiced by a number of their rivals yesterday - that they are a decent bet for this season's title, but Warriors coach Gregor Townsend and captain Al Kellock are under no illusion about how hard that task will be.

Speaking at the London launch of the competition that has now been rebranded as the Guinness PRO12, both Townsend and Kellock stressed that Glasgow have the players, the self-belief and the experience to go all the way, but they also agreed with Jamie Heaslip, captain of reigning champions Leinster, that the standard of the competition gets higher with every passing season and that there are probably more title contenders now than ever before.

"It's about learning lessons," said Kellock, who will miss the first month of the season as he recovers from shoulder surgery. "We have to get better because everybody else is getting better. You look at the recruitment that is going on - Edinburgh is a prime example, they will be strong this year - and we have to get better.

"If we do then potentially we could go on and do something but for me that is miles and miles away.

"Progress so far has been a steady building process. People ask what got us to the final last year and there is no X-factor, there is no one reason, it has just been about nudging up gradually over the years. We have got to keep doing that. We can't just expect to be as good as we were last year and make the final, we have got to be better to do it again."

Apart from Glasgow, last season's three other PRO12 play-off slots were all taken by Irish teams. However, the talk among most players and coaches yesterday was of how the Welsh sides, the Dragons and the Blues particularly, have strengthened their squads ahead of the new campaign. The professional game in Wales may be in turmoil as the WRU and the regions scrap over the terms of the so-called participation agreement, but the threat from the Principality may well be greater than in recent years.

For Townsend, the experience Glasgow have gained by reaching the play-offs in each of the past three seasons will be the most critical component of any challenge they will mount this time.

"Our goal over the past couple of years has been to become the first Scottish side to win the league title and we have yet to achieve that, but doing that is something that will drive us on this year," said the former Lions fly-half.

"We know the work required, but I think this group can raise the standards again this year and hopefully go one better, which would be great. The players know what it takes to win and we know people will be going all out to beat us.

"The standards we have set over the past few years show we are up for the challenge."

By contrast, the standard Edinburgh have set is not one that any side would want to emulate. While Glasgow have soared, the capital outfit have been scrapping away in the league's basement, finishing eighth, 10th and 11th over the past three seasons. However, coach Alan Solomons was adamant that he now has the players he needs, and in the shape he wants them, and that supporters can expect to see a considerable improvement in the months ahead.

Against that, the first part of the season will be particularly difficult, as Edinburgh are missing a host of top players due to various injury concerns. Solomons believes that if they can get through that tricky spell then a brighter future lies ahead. "The first month is going to be challenging because we have a lot of players out," admitted Solomons. "There are 11 frontline players out, but within a month most of them, apart from Matt [Scott] and Dents [Dave Denton], should be back. It gives opportunities to other players and tests our strength in depth.

"It is not a sprint, it's a marathon. This is the hand we've been dealt and we have to manage it. We are going to rebuild the club. We have a foundation and we have to move it on. The morale and the spirit of the squad are excellent. We have a tough first month but it is an opportunity for those who represent the club to show what they can do.

"The big thing for us is a top-six finish so we can qualify for the top competition in Europe. We appreciate that there will be heavy competition for those top six spots, but it is a good thing for the league. You need competition to drive things forward.

"We are looking forward to a tough, challenging season."

A tough, challenging opening day, as well, for Edinburgh will begin their season on Saturday week with a trip to Thomond Park, arguably the most daunting venue on the PRO12 circuit, to take on Munster. On the same day, Glasgow will host Leinster at Scotstoun, a match that will also mark the debut of Sky Sports as tournament broadcasters.

The fact that Leinster beat Glasgow in last season's final is sure to add spice to the fixture. "It's going to be a belter," said Heaslip. "Things are so tight between us is that it is usually the team that makes the fewest mistakes that wins games between us. We also maybe carried a bit of luck against them [last season] but there is nothing between the sides. They will be up there challenging for the title."

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