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Strauss ready to dance to Townsend's tune

Over the past few weeks, Gregor Townsend's tactics have come under closer scrutiny than ever before in his 20-month reign as Glasgow Warriors head coach, but you could never accuse him of inconsistency as far as his substitution strategy is concerned.

Josh Strauss says the team do not have any self-doubt   Photograph: SNS
Josh Strauss says the team do not have any self-doubt Photograph: SNS

Townsend has used seven replacements in each of Glasgow's past four games; over the same period, Alan Solomons, his Edinburgh counterpart, has never used more than three.

Yet in his enthusiasm for emptying the bench, it is doubtful whether the former Scotland and Lions fly-half has ever made a more important or effective change than the one that brought Josh Strauss into the fray in the 43rd minute of the first leg of the 1872 Cup at Murrayfield last Thursday.

At first, it seemed that Glasgow had a full-blown crisis on their hands, for when Ruaridh Jackson, then playing at ce ntre, was taken off with a head knock they had no more outside backs on the bench, but moving Ryan Wilson to the midfield so Strauss could take his place at No 8 turned the pattern of the game on its head.

Suddenly, Glasgow started bossing the breakdown, an area where Edinburgh had been comfortably ahead in the first half. Suddenly, too, they had thrust and momentum, and it seemed that Strauss was doing a lot of the damage. Suddenly, a game that had looked a lost cause at half time was there for the winning for Glasgow - an invitation accepted when Edinburgh fly-half Greig Tonks lost the ball in contact and the men from the west streamed forward and gave Stuart Hogg the try that clinched victory.

It is not entirely inconceivable that Strauss will again be on the bench when the return match takes place at Scotstoun on Wednesday. Yet it is also firmly in the realm of possibility that the South African will not only be given a place in the starting line-up, but will also be given the captaincy.

The long-term absence of Al Kellock, out for the next four months with an arm injury, is a grievous loss for the Warriors, but Strauss, who captained the Golden Lions to a Currie Cup victory in 2011, is probably a more natural successor than any other player on Glasgow's books right now.

Does Strauss believe he has done enough to start at Scotstoun on Wednesday?

"It is tough to say," he said, as coy as any 6ft 5in, 18st giant ever could be. "It is a competitive sport and we are all competitive people. Obviously, I want to start every game, but when you have been in rugby as long as I have you learn to bite the bullet and just get behind the other guy. If there is any sense of negativity or any bad vibes it is not good for the team. It just depends what Gregor wants for next week."

Presumably, what Gregor wants is the Glasgow he saw in the second half at Murrayfield last week rather than the Glasgow he watched with growing discomfort in the first. After Strauss had come on - and, in fairness, many others raised their games at the same time - there was a new vigour about the Warriors, that combination of devil and accuracy that made them such an effective force last season.

After three home defeats and their recent exit from the Heineken Cup, beating their inter-city rivals was just the restorative they needed.

But is it enough? Has the corner really been turned? Or are the questions regarding morale at the club still pertinent?

"It is one of our strengths that we are a very tight-knit group of guys and everyone gets along so well," Strauss replied. "We are all really good friends and that is a big thing for Glasgow. As an outsider coming in, you notice it straightaway and it's great. We work to keep it like that and we have to take advantage of it.

"In times like this, when we haven't played that well, we have to come together as a group and try to get out of it.

"I don't think there is any self-doubt. I have been in the situation before with different teams when you get on a losing streak and it works on your confidence. But as a rugby player you are in this profession because you are competitive and you always want to win. As a group, that's what we want to do.

"The last few results hadn't been great, but it came down to our mistakes and it was just something we had to fix. I think we did that well this week. We just have to improve from here."

Playing for 80 minutes rather than 40 would be a good start. There is little question that, against a better team than Edinburgh and on a better surface than the quagmire Murrayfield has become, Glasgow would have taken some heavy damage on the scoreboard as a consequence of their weak first-half display. In truth, they got off to some pretty dodgy starts last season as well, which only adds to the argument for having a player like Strauss on the field from the off.

Alasdair Reid

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