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No rest for the weary as play-off race enters the final straight . . .

The tape is in sight, but the RaboDirect PRO12 finishing straight must look more like a marathon than a sprint from a Glasgow Warriors point of view.

Gregor Townsend is aware how significant the match with Ospreys is to Glasgow's season. Picture: SNS/ SRU
Gregor Townsend is aware how significant the match with Ospreys is to Glasgow's season. Picture: SNS/ SRU

After all, Gregor Townsend's side face a run of seven games on consecutive weekends before the play-off stages can be reached.

Under normal circumstances, players can enjoy a break when European knockout games are going on, but the rescheduling of the their postponed December fixtures against Treviso and Edinburgh into those spring slots has denied the Warriors their weekends of rest.

It is a brutal schedule, but they will do themselves a huge favour if they get off on the right foot in tonight's potentially critical match with the Ospreys at Scotstoun. The Swansea side currently hold fourth place in the PRO12 table, the last of the play-off slots, one rung above Glasgow. However, a good win for the Warriors could allow them to trade places with the Welsh outfit - and still have two games in hand.

"It is a massive game for us and the Ospreys," acknowledged Townsend, the Warriors head coach. "We have seven left and we know this is one of the teams above us - we play Munster and Ulster in the next few weeks as well, which are going to be huge games - so we realise the importance of this one to close that gap between us and the Ospreys."

On paper, the Warriors are in a similar place to where they were this time last season, but they have taken a very different route to get there. In 2012/13, their first year at the ground, Glasgow made a fortress of their new home at Scotstoun, but in the current campaign they have been far more impressive on the road. They were also scoring tries for fun last season as they collected nine bonus points - exactly nine more than they have managed to pick up this time round.

Yet Glasgow can take confidence from the fact that their recent record against Ospreys - five consecutive PRO12 wins, all but one by double-digit margins - is hugely impressive. Of just as much significance, however, is the fact that the Scotstoun pitch, a quagmire just a few short weeks ago, now looks capable of supporting the kind of rugby that Glasgow were playing during their thrilling race for a play-off place last season. Their more impressive away form this season may not be unrelated to the fact that they have quite literally been bogged down on home soil.

"All players want to play in dry conditions with good surfaces to play on and we have certainly felt like we have been in better games when we have played on pitches that are great," said Townsend. "We played twice on the [artificial] Cardiff pitch this year and they have been really good attacking games."

Townsend has made three changes to the team that defeated Scarlets 14-6 at Scotstoun last weekend. Leone Nakarawa takes over from the injured Tim Swinson in the second row, while Pat MacArthur takes the hooking slot from Dougie Hall, but the most intriguing switch is Finn Russell's move into the centre, where he displaces Richie Vernon.

Russell has played there before, most recently against Leinster earlier this month, but he has mostly been billed as a fly-half in waiting. However, Townsend believes that the 21-year-old is shaping up as more of a second five-eighth in the New Zealand mould, who can share responsibility for giving some creative shape to the team.

"If we can get another passer in the team somewhere, whether that is at 12 or 15, then it helps your attacking options," the coach explained. "Finn does bring that, and the kicking option too, heads-up rugby like Peter Horne did so well for us last year."

After a relatively quiet period on the recruitment front, Townsend also hinted that Glasgow could be back in the transfer market before long, although he refused to elaborate on what area of the team he is looking to strengthen.

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