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Kellock at the helm for Glasgow's final push

As you might expect of a fellow who was born in Romania, raised in Italy and who has worked all over Europe, Marius Mitrea has a gift for foreign languages.

Al Kellock's communication skills, experience and authority have earned him the nod over the other lock forwards at Gregor Townsend's disposal as Glasgow Warriors strive to reach the final of the RaboDirect PRO12 for the first time. Picture: SNS
Al Kellock's communication skills, experience and authority have earned him the nod over the other lock forwards at Gregor Townsend's disposal as Glasgow Warriors strive to reach the final of the RaboDirect PRO12 for the first time. Picture: SNS

Which is probably just as well because the man who has been appointed referee for tonight's RaboDirect PRO12 semi-final match between Glasgow and Munster at Scotstoun is likely to have to do a lot of listening while he is out there.

Al Kellock and Paul O'Connell are two of the game's great second-row forwards, but as neither has ever been slow to make his opinion heard, Mitrea might be forgiven for thinking he is taking charge of a debating society rather than a contest to decide which side will go forward to the PRO12 final in just over two weeks' time.

Gregor Townsend, the Warriors coach, admitted that Kellock's communication skills had been a factor in his selection at the business end of a season in which Tim Swinson and Jonny Gray appear to have nudged ahead of him on the playing front. Townsend was quick to stress that Kellock is well worth his place for other reasons, but in the tumult of an occasion that will be entirely alien to many of the Glasgow players, his experience and all-round authority put him back at the top of the lock pecking order.

Kellock is the sole survivor of the Warriors team that started against Ospreys in the very first PRO12 play-off four years ago. Thirty-three next month, he has a few miles on his clock, but that is no bad thing at a stage of the season when composure and cool-headedness has more value than ever.

Did the want of those qualities count against the selection of Stuart Hogg? The young full-back's two tries against Zebre last weekend offered stunning reminders of his game-breaking flair, but his anger in the wake of being beaten by Niko Matawalu in the chase to complete his hat trick provided another insight into his excitability on a pitch. In the wake of his sending-off while on Scotland duty against Wales, and with the swirl of rumours about a possible move to Ulster, Hogg's absence from the starting line-up is bound to provoke speculation that wider factors came into Townsend's thinking when he opted for Peter Murchie at 15 instead.

The coach, however, denied that suggestion. "Stuart knows he has probably not had enough rugby in that period," said Townsend of Hogg's appearances since his return from suspension. "We are in a great situation at full-back and Peter Murchie was outstanding against Edinburgh and very good when he came on at the weekend.

"Stuart has played well, but has not been able to have a full game with his back injury. We pick what we think is the right side to win a game, rewarding players in form, and that's why Peter Murchie is in the team."

Murchie has indeed been in fine form for Glasgow, and he probably offers more in defence, particularly under the high ball, than Hogg. Yet it is still a big call to drop a player who has recent Lions experience and who is one of the most feared counter-attackers in the game today.

Townsend presumably feels he has strike runners aplenty in a backline that pairs Alex Dunbar in the midfield and features Sean Maitland and Tommy Seymour on the wings. All but one of the Warriors backs were in the starting XV when Glasgow stunned Munster by winning 22-5 at Thomond Park last month, and they certainly asked questions that are rarely put to the home team at that Limerick fortress.

There was a time, of course, when Munster's own wingers were rather peripheral to the efforts of a side that, in its pomp, won two Heineken Cup finals. With Rob Penney in charge for the past two seasons, that pattern has been turned on its head, with the Irish side now one of the most enterprising in the PRO12. But then, with players such as Casey Laulala and Simon Zebo to call on, why wouldn't you want to give them licence to run.

Not that Munster took it on their most recent visit to Glasgow, for their expansive game was well hidden in a stuffy, stroppy infuriating performance that, nevertheless, brought them the 13-6 victory that brought Glasgow's five-game winning streak to a juddering halt last October. It was a blast from the past, a textbook display of up-the-jumper rugby, and Townsend admitted that having those tactics in the playbook makes Munster a particularly difficult side to second-guess.

"We have to prepare for two games," said Townsend. "Munster are very good at mixing things up. Rob Penney introduced a way of playing that is probably unique in the northern hemisphere, and certainly unique in the Rabo, with his wide-to-wide rugby. They passed the ball more than any other side last season, which is very different to what Munster did in the past.

"But they have mixed that up with the traditional Munster game and they have done that more this year. You have forwards running hard at you, especially as they get further up the pitch and closer to the try line. We have to be aware that both games will go on, but also that the breakdown is the crucial area. They're going ot try to win quick ball and slow down our ball, as every team wants to do."

Yet Glasgow have all the momentum created by eight wins on the trot right now. Munster may have semi-final pedigree, but in their last appearance at this stage, when they took on Ospreys two years ago, they were hammered 45-10. Glasgow have no right to expect a scoreline like that tonight, but they have every right to believe they can win.

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