Gregor Townsend is trying to keep his Glasgow Warriors’ target crystal clear for their last two regular season games in the Guinness PRO12 despite the endless permutations.
The Warriors might have an eye on their rivals in this penultimate weekend of fixtures as they bid to beat Zebre at Scotstoun for a ninth successive league win, specifically Connacht’s meeting with Treviso in Italy and the clash of leaders Leinster and Ulster in Belfast on Saturday.
However rather than try and work out what could happen, one simple truth is dictating Glasgow’s approach.
“The only way we’re getting a home semi-final is if we win our next two games,” stressed Townsend. “That’s what I believe to be correct.
“We want to get into a shoot-out with Connacht (in the final league game in Galway next week). Even if they lose this week it’s still going to be a shoot-out, and them winning or losing against Munster the other week didn’t really affect what we believe will happen if we both win this week, which is we’re playing that game for a home semi-final.
“There could be other permutations with Leinster-Ulster the following day, there’s an outside chance that both ourselves and Connacht could get a home semi-final, but we’re keeping it simple.”
A bonus point win to match the one the Warriors eased to in Parma earlier this month would do the trick, but it’s clear the Galway game has been exercising the minds of both camps even a week in advance. The Warriors have made 12 changes from the starting team that thrashed Scarlets two weeks ago while Pat Lam has made 10 changes to Connacht.
Rob Harley – skippering the side – Mark Bennett and Alex Dunbar are the only players retained from the Scarlets game. Finn Russell and Tommy Seymour are among those on the bench should a late push for a bonus be necessary, but Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray and Josh Strauss are all given an extra week off.
Glasgow’s rotating squad system mans they can make these amount of changes with little ill-effect, and although this week’s announcement of 10 more players leaving the club including big-money earners Leone Nakarawa and Taqele Naiyaravoro, the numbers are just about set for next season.
“We had 48 training on Monday, and 38 of our squad this year are test players,” Townsend pointed out. “We had 21 away at the World Cup and I don’t believe any other team had that many absent.
“We go right to our budget. We get excellent investment from Scottish rugby and I think we will be not far off having 38 test players. When you have they are going to cost a bit of money. We re-signed guys like Jonny, Finn and Zander Fagerson and they all stepped up in salary as they have done in development.”
The compensation for Nakarawa’s departure a year early will be retained within the budget and the Warriors could be looking for another second row before they are finished recruiting.
“A lot of this year’s squad was to cover the Six Nations and the World Cup, and a few guys were on part-time contracts that have moved on, so the natural side of that is we have to reduce,” continued Townsend.
“It will probably be about four or five less next year, but it will still be big, maybe about 45.”
For several of tonight’s team – including Duncan Weir, Glenn Bryce and Jerry Yanuyanutawa – it’s likely to be their last home game before they depart the club and their “motivation was very high” as a result, added the head coach.
Team: Glenn Bryce; Taqele Naiyaravoro, Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar, Sean Lamont; Duncan Weir, Grayson Hart; Jerry Yanuyanutawa, Pat MacArthur, D’Arcy Rae; Greg Petersen, Leone Nakarawa; Rob Harley (capt), Simone Favaro, Adam Ashe. Replacements: Fraser Brown, Gordon Reid, Zander Fagerson, Tim Swinson, Ryan Wilson, Ali Price, Finn Russell, Tommy Seymour.