Gregor Townsend and Al Kellock believe the best is yet to come for the Glasgow Warriors as they claimed Scottish rugby’s first trophy in 16 years by winning the Guinness PRO12 final in Belfast on Saturday.
The 31-13 victory over Munster was the first piece of silverware for the game in Scotland since the 1999 Five Nations Championship, with the obvious link between the two triumphs being Townsend, who was Scotland’s playmaker during that last championship season.
Now the former British Lion is arguably Europe’s hottest property as a head coach after guiding the Warriors to the PRO12 title and becoming a competitive force in European rugby, but although he has only a year left on his contract with Scottish rugby he indicated that, despite obvious personal ambitions, he’s in for the long haul.
“We have ambitions as a group to be one of the best sides in Europe,” Townsend said after watching Kellock and the team lift the trophy.
“We’ve already played well against some of the top teams in Europe, and the players delivered today too. We’ve been getting better and better over the past few seasons.
“We knew that in last year’s PRO12 final we didn’t do ourselves justice and the way they got the win last week to be here showed this is a maturing team.
“While this is a fantastic achievement, it will actually also make us a better team.”
For Kellock, there could be no better way to bow out of his playing career than lifting the first trophy won by the club he’s come to personify as captain over a decade.
The celebration night was in Belfast as the club’s scheduled flight on Saturday night was cancelled and they had to find some last-minute accommodation in the city.
Arriving back in Glasgow yesterday to a crowd of celebrating fans, the skipper was still trying to enjoy the moment.
“It will sink in over the next few days,” he said. “We worked incredibly hard to get to this point, on and off the park, and now we’ve got to savour it.
“We managed to get looked after in Belfast last night but we could have been anywhere in the world last night and it wouldn’t have mattered!”
The captain thought it was Glasgow’s best performance in knockout rugby in his long time at the club.
“It was top class. Not only the way we played with the ball but the way we stopped a top-quality Munster team.
“The feeling of achievement is incredibly difficult to put into words. I sat with the trophy between me and DTH van der Merwe on the plane and occasionally we’d just say ‘we did it’.”
“I’ve played my last game of rugby and then there’s some of the boys who are moving on like Jon Welsh and DTH, who have been the heart and soul of this club.
“It’s now passing it on to the young lads coming through. But I’ve got no doubt they will grasp a hold of it and keep going with the foundations that have been built.”
Kellock has been the real heart and soul of the club, along with forwards coach Shade Munro who is also moving on. While Townsend will rightly get the plaudits and the Warriors have certainly become more of a complete team under his guidance, Kellock and Munro were there when the foundations were first laid and have seen it all the way through to Saturday’s victory.
But what was the greatest pleasure for those who have suffered through the Warriors’ long journey from tiny crowds at Hughenden to a major title was how they played in a style that was true to their philosophy of attacking and attractive rugby.
First half tries from Rob Harley, van der Merwe and Henry Pyrgos came from speed of delivery and some audacious passing, while the growing authority of Finn Russell brought his third try in as many weeks to seal victory in the second half.
Munster were without two key men in Lions scrum-half Conor Murray and captain Peter O’Mahony, while their chief strike weapon Simon Zebo was clearly less than fully fit. But even with all three present at full bore it’s hard to imagine there would have been any other result.
So many departures and the complications of the World Cup make next season something of an unknown, but their formidable team spirit, largely developed by Kellock, puts the Warriors in a great position to kick on further.