Gregor Townsend will not try to rein in the attacking instincts of his protégé Finn Russell but expects the stand-off to be “be smart” against maybe the best team in Europe at Scotstoun tonight.
Qualification for the quarter-finals and the lead in Pool 1 is on the line as Munster come to Glasgow for arguably the biggest game in the European Rugby Champions Cup so far this season, pitting the continent’s two in-form teams against each other.
The Warriors have won five in a row and the Irish Red Army all but one of their last 11 games and while both sides could very well end up qualifying for the last eight, the crucial home draw for a quarter-final might well be at stake tonight.
Townsend knows his side are coming up against one of the best defences in the modern game but won’t warn the mercurial Russell to not try the audacious – like the chip from his own line against Cardiff last week that ended up as a gift try for the Welshmen.
“I thought his decision to kick was the right one, if it hadn’t been deflected then Tommy (Seymour) would have been in behind,” said the coach. “It’s great that Finn is making decisions and learning from them.
“If we have an overlap even on our try line then the players know they can take it, it would be wasted opportunity not to, whether it’s there or 50 yards up the field.
“You just have to make sure you are executing properly. Yes, it’s on, but the accuracy of the kick or pass has to be spot on.
“Against Munster we are up against a good defence and a team that will be trying to put us under pressure. We have to be smart as a team with when to kick and when to run, how to put pressure on in our attack but also in defence.”
Glasgow have negotiated the tough festive period with three more wins and only two additional injury casualties – Simone Favaro and Henry Pyrgos – plus the suspension of Brian Alainu’uese which means that young Matt Fagerson is on the bench tonight.
Matt’s “big” brother Zander (still only 20) is recalled with Stuart Hogg, Fraser Brown and Rob Harley to the starting line-up. Munster, as expected, will be missing their open-side Tommy O’Donnell but otherwise are at full strength.
Townsend has been hugely impressed with the way Munster have sustained the emotional tide that swept the Warriors away at Thomond Park, the week after coach Anthony Foley’s tragic death.
“Last year I thought they had the makings of a good side but I thought it would be another year before the likes of Scannell, Sweetham and the rest really kicked on,” he said. “They’ve just one defeat since we played them and that was the last kick of the game against Leicester.
“Defensively they have been outstanding with the best defensive record in our league and I think Europe. Their key players like Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray and CJ Stander are all fit, they’re probably the best team in Europe at the moment.”
Glasgow have lost twice this season to Munster already, but the games are usually tight, added the head coach.
“You’ve got to play the full 80 minutes close to your best. We’ve been involved in real battles with them, games that have gone to the last play like the 2014 PRO12 semi-final.
“Take out the Thomond Park game this year and the PRO12 final, all the other games have been one score. We enjoy the battles against them, but we know they are an opposition who will keep fighting for 80 minutes. But we do that as well, and we’ve got to do that tomorrow.”
While it’s a huge game in the context of Glasgow’s season, it still doesn’t match the day in May 2014 in Belfast when the Warriors routed Munster for their PRO12 title.
“I don’t think it is as big, although the final is in the past now,” he said.
“This is a huge game for the club, we understand the importance in terms of qualification, playing at home and what a spectacle it will be,” added the coach,
“We’ve had a few massive games at home this season and the crowd have really got behind us. There will be a few Munster supporters there as well so it should be a brilliant atmosphere.”