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Townsend's men must overcome blues

If you must hold your Christmas party in the last chance saloon then the chances are it will all end in tears. And so it turned out for Glasgow at Scotstoun on Friday night, with the mood at the finish of their 9-7 loss to Cardiff Blues as bitter as the conditions had been for the preceding 80 minutes.

The consequence of the defeat is that they have taken their leave of Europe yet again, but you suspect the recriminations will rumble on.

Coach Gregor Townsend denied the suggestion that recent events that led to the club disciplining seven employees last month played a part, but he was uncharacteristically terse and even tetchy about it.

With court proceedings still ongoing there was never any chance that he would - or could - say very much anyway, but it is almost inconceivable that morale within the squad has not been affected. This does not look like a happy camp at the moment.

Yet even without their off-field distractions, Glasgow have some serious issues at the moment. Reel off the elements of their game that made them such a compelling and effective force last season and you will have compiled a list of things that simply are not working in this campaign. Their fluidity has gone. Their confidence looks crippled. The players who added layers to their game have sunk into ordinariness.

Worst of all, they have lost the power to surprise. Last season, they were harder to read than A Brief History of Time; at the moment they are about as puzzling as Spot's First Picture Book. It has been all too easy for sides such as Munster, Dragons and Cardiff - their last three opponents at Scotstoun - to figure them out and walk away with workmanlike wins.

It hardly helps that Townsend has chopped and changed the side from one week to the next. It has become commonplace for six, seven or eight changes to be made between games. Playing horses for courses is all very well, but there comes a time when you have to back your best ponies. The depth of squad that was Glasgow's strength last season looks more like a weakness now.

If there was one heartening aspect of Friday's defeat it was that Glasgow outmuscled Cardiff at the set-piece. To be able to do that is the sort of rugby foundation on which better things can be laid. And if ever a side needed to build from the ground up, it is Glasgow right now.

Alasdair Reid

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