• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

The only way is up remains battle cry for driven Warriors

Scotstoun was shimmering in yesterday's late summer sunshine, the quagmire surface of last season now thankfully replaced by a brand new pitch that seemed to be glowing with robust good health.

Gregor Townsend is satisfied that all at his club are determined to build  on recent successes. Picture: SNS Group/ SRU
Gregor Townsend is satisfied that all at his club are determined to build on recent successes. Picture: SNS Group/ SRU

A bit like the Glasgow players who will grace it in the weeks and months ahead, in fact, for the injury list that threatened to derail the Warriors at key points has now been shortened to such an extent that, barring any further mishaps, all the club's top players should be fully fit by the time the European season gets underway in October.

And yet, it is impossible not to sense a small cloud of doubt amidst all this eve-of-season optimism. For as well as Glasgow have done over the past two campaigns, reaching the RaboDirect PRO12 semi-final stage in 2013 and the final itself just a few months ago, the concern must be that they will take a step backwards this season, unable to sustain the lofty heights they have reached.

Against that, the Warriors have kept almost all their top players while other sides have been shedding theirs. They have recruited modestly, but well. The question now is whether their 34-12 defeat by Leinster in last season's final, a curiously and uncharacteristically flat performance, will have bolstered their determination or undermined it. Will this be the year they hit the summit or start to slide?

Gregor Townsend, the Warriors head coach, is too canny an operator to make himself a hostage to fortune by predicting a PRO12 title just yet. However, he is adamant that the fire is still in Glasgow's bellies, and that the experience of coming so close to silverware earlier this year has had a galvanising effect. Townsend was a controversial appointment when he took over from Sean Lineen in 2012, but his imaginative approach to selection and match preparations at Glasgow has at least kept a sense of freshness about the club. Can he maintain that atmosphere for another year?

We will have a better idea in just over two weeks' time when Glasgow open their competitive season, in the tournament which has now been rebranded the Guinness PRO12, with a Scotstoun match with Leinster that is bound to feel like a revenge mission for many of their players. Before then, however, there will be an indication of their all-round readiness in tomorrow's friendly warm-up against Harlequins at the same ground and in next weekend's away trip to London Scottish.

Townsend is confident that his players are in good shape, mentally as well as physically, at the end of what has been for many a brutally short close season. But he is also happy with the working environment and the sense of purpose around the club. Townsend and his fellow coaches have taken Glasgow to a level and they will not be satisfied if standards are merely maintained.

"We don't just want to sustain it, we want to get better," said the coach of the progress his side have made so far. "We are always looking at how we coach, working more effectively and efficiently and how we deliver better performances. Ultimately, that is the mark of us all as a squad of players and coaches."

In PRO12 terms, the only possible improvement Glasgow can make this season is to actually win the tournament. Given the closeness of the last competition, that might be setting the bar unrealistically high, but it is still, unquestionably, within reach. At a more subtle level, though, the Warriors need to establish themselves as a force on other fronts, not least in Europe. In last season's Heineken Cup, Glasgow won just two games and finished rock bottom of their pool for the second season on the trot.

"What motivates the group is the fact they have got to a [PRO12] semi-final and final," said Townsend. "There's a confidence and work ethic in the squad. We all want to get better and that's what we're striving to do.

"So we're always looking for ways to get better. This summer I was out in Australia, where I spent a couple of days with the Waratahs, a day with the Brumbies and a day with a rugby league club. [Backs coach] Kenny Murray had three weeks with the Crusaders and [defence coach] Matt Taylor had a couple of days with rugby league and AFL clubs.

"We've all brought something back from that which should help with team building or even just the tactical side of things. We as coaches can help the process of motivating the players and helping them to improve, but the players drive a lot of it as well."

The days of sporadic success, when beating a big team was no more than a pleasant surprise, are behind Glasgow now. The expectations - of players, coaches and supporters - are much higher, and Townsend appreciates that they have to be met.

"There is more consistency throughout the organisation now. There has been consistent support from Scottish Rugby, who believe in the professional game, which maybe wasn't the case a few years ago.

"We also have consistency with our crowd numbers and I think there was only one game last season when we dropped below 5000. We've got that week to week and we see consistency from the players in training. Last year there was only one game of the 31 we played where we didn't register either a losing bonus point or a win.

"So there are more expectations among supporters. There is a buzz and a real momentum building. We have to make sure we start the season as we finished last season."

Contextual targeting label: 
Football

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

256257