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Midfield muscle key to defeating Treviso

Like Ryan Grant before him, prop Geoff Cross will tonight complete a full house of appearances for Scotland's pro sides when he makes his first outing for Glasgow, adding another line to a cv that already records entries for the time he spent at Edinburgh and the (now defunct) Border Reivers.

A sterling performance by Geoff Cross against Treviso would help him in his quest to gain a place in Inter-City derby. Picture: Craig Watson/SNS/SRU
A sterling performance by Geoff Cross against Treviso would help him in his quest to gain a place in Inter-City derby. Picture: Craig Watson/SNS/SRU

Cross, who will join London Irish at the end of this season, became a peripheral figure under coach Alan Solomons at Edinburgh, so he is probably relishing the prospect of facing his former team-mates in the rescheduled second leg of the Inter-City derby, which will take place at Scotstoun in just over three weeks' time.

If he is to get a crack at the capital outfit, a solid performance against Treviso this evening will go a long way towards securing that place. A long way towards strengthening the Warriors' prospects of an appearance in the RaboDirect PRO12 play-offs as well. Having scorched out of the starting blocks with five straight wins at the start of the season, Gregor Townsend's side allowed their pace to drop through the darkest days of winter, but back-to-back victories over Scarlets and Ospreys in the past two weeks suggests that their speed is gathering again as the finishing line comes into view.

It speaks volumes for the heightened expectations around the War­riors these days that they are fretting over a set of results that many other sides in the PRO12 competition would be happy to match. Only one side - league leaders Leinster - have lost fewer matches than Glasgow, while Townsend's charges also have also managed to put themselves on the shoulders of the leading group while still having the comfort of two games in hand. What they don't have this season, in stark contrast to the last campaign, is the pile of try bonus points that eased their passage into the play-offs last May. "We got nine [four-try] bonus points last year," said Townsend with a rueful smile. "Nine more than we've got this year."

Townsend's explanation for the change is that the league has become a much tighter competition over the past 12 months. Few would disagree with that contention - lowly Zebre have won three times this season - but the difference is not actually all that stark.

In last season's PRO12, 132 games produced a total of 44 try-bonus points, or one every third match. This time round, the 105 games played so far have thrown up 29 try-bonuses, or one every 3.6 games. Yes, the extra points have become harder to obtain, but not so much harder as to explain Glasgow's failure to secure even one.

"We haven't attacked as we did last year," Townsend admitted, "but we are building towards doing that. We know our attack will have to be good to have a chance of getting into the top four and even through to the final."

Three weeks ago, with a dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over their future and with player morale in freefall, Treviso turned up at the Ospreys' Liberty Stadium and were hammered 75-7. Since then, however, PRO12 and European deals seemed to have confirmed their continued existence, and the Italian side has been playing with a noticeable swagger. Treviso put in a battling performance before going down 14-3 to Munster, then backed that up last Saturday by beating Edinburgh 20-16.

"This will be a very tough game," warned Townsend. "Treviso have played with much more confidence in the past couple of weeks. It looks like their future is guaranteed for next season, so the players feel much more secure, and there is also the number of Italian internationalists who have come back into the team.

"I thought Edinburgh controlled a lot of the possession against them for the first half-hour but, with Treviso, if you don't take your opportunities and get ahead of them, then they are going to be in the game for the whole 80 minutes. They have picked big forwards and they have two big centres, so we expect them to be hard, direct runners and we will have to defend well against them."

In fairness, Glasgow have some midfield muscle of their own in the ample shape of Mark Bennett, who returns at outside-centre after his brief absence helping Scotland win the Bowl competition at the Hong Kong 7s last weekend.

Townsend said he had been impressed by the 21-year-old's form at that event, both as a ball carrier and in defence, and Bennett certainly has thoughts of advancing his own 7s experience at the Commonwealth Games this summer.

With some hard-nosed application required over the next few weeks, it may be more significant that Al Kellock will also return to the Glasgow starting XV this evening, renewing his partnership with Tim Swinson, who has recovered from a shoulder knock, in the second-row.

Kellock's leadership skills have unquestionably been missed over the past few months, as has his ability to ensure that the players around him make sensible decisions under pressure. And there will be plenty of that in the games ahead.

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