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Strauss remains on front line as other Warriors withdraw . . .

A long-running theme of Gregor Townsend's career as a professional player was his frustrating and often unsuccessful quest to find a club which could offer him consistent selection at fly-half.

Josh Strauss believes emotion contributed to Glasgow shipping four tries in the derby. Picture: SNS Group/SRU
Josh Strauss believes emotion contributed to Glasgow shipping four tries in the derby. Picture: SNS Group/SRU

What do they say about victims becoming aggressors? The choice of Finn Russell as playmaker in the Glasgow Warriors team for tonight's match with Benetton Treviso in the Stadio Monigo is the seventh game in succession where Townsend has made a change in the one position where most rugby followers would probably assume that a bit of stability might be a good thing.

Still, as Townsend's side has also won those last six outings, perhaps there is method in his, well, method. While the coach's faith in continuity has apparently weakened, he has become a strong believer in the value of competition and at fly-half he has an embarrassment of riches. Russell, Ruaridh Jackson and Duncan Weir have all worn the No.10 shirt in winning Warriors sides over the past few weeks, while Stuart Hogg and Peter Horne could both step into the role if asked.

Curiously enough, full-back Hogg and inside-centre Horne both return to a side that features 10 changes - eight of personnel and two positional - from the team that defeated Edinburgh 37-34 last weekend. Such sweeping alterations might, in part, measure Townsend's disappointment at leaking four tries and two bonus points to their inter-city rivals, but it is also clear that he expects a rather different kind of game in Italy than the one he witnessed at Scotstoun six days ago.

The clearest sign of that is in the selection of Tim Swinson and Jonny Gray as the Warriors' second row. That means no place - even on the bench - for Al Kellock, the club captain, the thinking being that the chosen combination will bring greater physicality against a Treviso pack which might misfire in many areas but is never short of grunt.

Townsend explained that many of the changes are the consequence of his wish to rest players who have had a heavy schedule of games recently. However, that thinking clearly does not apply to Josh Strauss, the powerhouse No.8 who this season has figured in 17 of Glasgow's 20 RaboDirect PRO12 games and five of their six Heineken Cup matches. Nor have these been 60-minute shifts, for Strauss has played the full 80 in all but two of his last nine outings for the Warriors.

"Yes, I've played a lot of games and that takes its toll, especially now I'm not as young as once was," said the 27-year-old. "But the people in charge of conditioning here look after us well, fully take into account what people have been doing. If you have had a heavy schedule you maybe get to take things a bit easier in training. It is managed very well and I don't think anyone is feeling burned out or overworked at the moment."

Just as well, too, for a home semi-final in the PRO12 play-offs is a tantalisingly close prospect at the moment. Two wins, just one with a bonus point, from their two remaining league games - they will finish their regular season against Zebre at Scotstoun next weekend - would guarantee that prize, although results elsewhere could get them there with less. That Glasgow will definitely be in the play-offs was guaranteed last night after Zebre's victory over Ospreys.

"It [playing at Scotstoun] would be a great advantage to us," Strauss admitted. "If we can win our last two games we will be sitting in a good place. That would be great for us because our crowd has been great all season and we had a record attendance last week. It would be great to get a big support out in a home semi-final, a real boost to morale and confidence, so that's a big focus for us."

Edinburgh might have been flattered by their three-point margin last weekend, but they still scored more tries and more points against Glasgow than any other PRO12 side has managed this season. Not surprisingly, defensive drills have figured high on the list of training priorities at Scotstoun these past few days but Strauss suggested that some allowance should be made for the particular context of the Edinburgh game.

"It was a bit of a wake-up call to lose four tries," said the South African. "But I think with it being the 1872 Cup, a derby with all the rivalry there is there, that can have a big effect on form. It is a very emotional game for both sides and you have to take that into account.

"You have to take a longer view of the past few weeks, where we have been pretty good in defence. Yes, we did slip up against Edinburgh a few times, but we've done a lot of work to try and fix that and get back to our best. We don't want to have other teams looking at what Edinburgh did and thinking they have found a weakness in our system. I think it was just momentary lapses. We've just been trying to work on a few things to bring us back to our best."

Emotion will also play a part for Treviso tonight as a number of their players make their final home appearances for the side. On top of which, the club itself is set to be reconstituted ahead of next season's PRO12 competition and will no longer be under the aegis of Benetton, the fashion giant which has its headquarters in Treviso and has been its major backer for 35 years.

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