Once a Warrior 2017: Part 7 – The coaches

20170402_124311Gregor Townsend

Head Coach
Joined from – Scotland (2012/13 season)
Moving to – Scotland
Replaced by – Dave Rennie (Chiefs)

On Top Of The Moon took an in depth look at the first 3½ seasons of Gregor Townsend’s ahead of the coach taking charge of his 100th game with the club back in December 2015 (in a piece entitled Toony’s Ton). Here then is a look at the remaining matches of his reign.

2015/16 – the second half

After a strange start to Glasgow’s defence of their title, with more than 20 players away at the Rugby World Cup, it didn’t get any more normal (or easier) with flooding leading to the club only playing once at Scotstoun during December, January and February. This contributed to one of the toughest runs of the Townsend era as the first team dropped 4 in a row around the turn of the year. With the first 2 matches during the Six Nations window passing by without a victory Glasgow only had 5 wins in their first 12 games in the league and were in danger of seeing their championship slip away .

What followed was an incredible run that started with 4 wins that were largely achieved without the club’s sizeable Scotland contingent. Toony had to reach deep into his squad and find a way to inspire players with limited experience at this level. By the time his side finished the last game in the Test window the head coach was missing almost 30 players and was reduced to running out a scrum half on the wing and a hooker in the back row – but still they were able to find some way to beat Leinster. The style of the Townsend era was oft commented on but games like this illustrated there was also a certain bloody-minded determination and will to win that permeated the organisation from top to bottom.

With momentum on their side the first choice players were integrated back in to carry on racking up the wins and bonus points. It was a spell that took the Warriors to the playoffs and the brink of a third consecutive home playoff semi-final. The only thing that stood in their way in Round 22? Connacht. It’s all too easy to dwell on the ‘what ifs’ around that game. Sila Puafisi’s red card came just as Glasgow seemed to be taking control of the match in the second half – something that had become a bit of a habit during their winning streak. Like any game though there were plenty of other occasions when Glasgow or Connacht missed a chance or let their opponents stay in the tie – there’s no way to define a match through a single incident. Whatever the reasons though the Warriors lost a regular season fixture to the Westies for the only time in the Townsend era meaning they had to return to the Sportsground 2 weeks later for the playoffs.

14 of the 15 starters in that semi-final on the 21st of May had had RWC duty so had been playing pretty much non-stop for nearly 21 months. On the day, Connacht were inspired, distilling Pat Lam’s gameplan and the confidence they had built through the season into a performance that would only be topped by their trouncing of Leinster a week later. (There were certainly distinct parallels with Glasgow’s own run to the Championship, which brought together the best attributes of the Townsend era and saw the Warriors peak when it mattered most.) On the flip side Glasgow looked weary and were hamstrung by the almost instant departures of their starting fly half and tighthead prop. The team fought hard to continue the defence of their title but just couldn’t scale the heights they were capable of and that were needed to subdue Connacht in front of their home fans.

2016/17 – Europe or Bust

The season was characterised by unprecedented success in the Champions Cup but a first misfire in the Pro 12. The team started at a canter with back to back BP wins – including instant revenge over Connacht in Glasgow’s third consecutive trip to the Sportsground. Timing can be everything in the league and in some ways Glasgow were unlucky to catch the Cardiff Blues early in the season before their campaign hit the skids. By the time the European fixtures kicked off the Warriors had 4 wins and 2 losses under their belts – a reasonable return.

Opening night in the Champions Cup brought a sensational atmosphere to Scotstoun. The early signs weren’t great. Penalty after penalty went against the home side and they were overpowered by a rolling maul. It took just 12 minutes and 34 seconds to flip the match on its head and define the shape and structure Gregor Townsend wanted his side to bring to the European campaign. The following week saw Glasgow swept away on a tide of emotion against Munster but ultimately that match changed little about what was needed for the Warriors to progress from their group.

League duty during the November Test window meant selecting from a squad missing 21 and 26 players (due to a combination of international duty and injuries) against the Scarlets and Ospreys respectively. There were none of the players who had been so inspirational during these sorts of matches in previous seasons either – no Nakarawa; no Strauss; no Matawalu; not even DTH. These were tough losses to take and even when the majority of the Scotland contingent returned (although without 5 top starters who were rested ahead of the Champions Cup double header) Munster nicked another win with a late drop goal. Having only lost once in the Pro 12 at Scotstoun in almost 2 years suddenly the Warriors had dropped 3 games out of 5 on their home turf in the league.

It certainly wasn’t the most auspicious run to be on to prepare for back to back matches against the (financial and corporeal) muscle of Racing 92. There was no dwelling on those previous matches though – they were in the past and the growth mindset the head coach and his staff were so keen to imbue in their players allowed the group to move on and focus on the task at hand. Across 160 minutes they controlled almost every aspect of the play, even neutering areas like the scrum where the French side would have been looking to carve out a significant advantage. Crucially Glasgow had 3 wins in the opening 4 rounds for the first time in the club’s history and knew that one more victory would put them on the brink of the quarter finals.

With confidence flowing Edinburgh, Treviso and the Cardiff Blues were dispatched in short order to send the club back into European action with a winning mentality. After a tight first half in yet another meeting with Munster the second half saw Glasgow dominate territory and possession but meet an immovable wall of red-shirted tacklers while the visitors were clinical with their own chances. Defeat wasn’t the end for the Warriors but all of a sudden they were left with a must-win fixture away to one of the most successful clubs in the history of European competition. The 1,000 or so fans who travelled to Welford were treated to one of the great Glasgow performances, dismantling Leicester and nilling them in front of their home crowd. After 20 years of trying the club would finally get to enjoy a quarter-final with all the anticipation and buildup being part of that European elite brought with it.

Domestically though the Warriors had to face up to 4 games during the Six Nations with essentially their entire first XV missing. Another defeat to bogey side, Scarlets was followed up by 2 more reverses against Ulster and Ospreys before, finally, a win came against the docile Dragons – the only points the team picked up in 6 fixtures during the 2016/17 Test windows. A win over Connacht in the final game before the Champions Cup quarter final was achieved at the cost of a suspension for Tim Swinson – no small loss given he was man of the match in the 2 most recent European games and the shortage of game time for squad replacement, Greg Peterson.

On one hand the trip to Allianz Park was an incredible day for any Warriors fan. The sun was shining, the blue flags were flying and the sense of occasion more than lived up to the 2 months of anticipation. On the other hand the on-field action made for a tough watch. But for 2 Saracens’ tries being chalked off by the finest of margins the game would have been out of sight by half-time. The European champions were flying and were in such irresistible form it may not have mattered how well Glasgow played. There’s a nagging sensation though that the Warriors didn’t do themselves justice though. There were occasions when some of the side’s fundamentals let them down and a lack of penetration which was exacerbated by Saracens’ stifling defence but which was impacted by the Glasgow attack being just that 2 or 3% off where they needed to be to play at their very best.

After the emotion and the effort in Hendon what the coach and his players probably didn’t need was to face a last-chance saloon match to keep their Pro 12 playoff chase alive. They definitely didn’t need it to be away against Munster either but that’s the position they found themselves in. Largely the same line-up that had taken on Saracens never really got going and defeat to an understrength home side at Irish Independent Park effectively ended Glasgow’s chances of making the top 4. Zebre were dealt with at home but there was another agonisingly close loss to Leinster in Dublin before the campaign stumbled to a halt with a defeat by Edinburgh that emphatically illustrated that when it comes to winning it doesn’t matter how dominant one side is in a game if they don’t convert pressure and chances into points.

2016/17 was a tough final campaign for Gregor Townsend and his troops. The first choice XV showed they could mix it with almost anyone in Europe but the lack of experience and a little spark of brilliance left the backups short at crucial times. Playing the hand he was dealt though the head coach managed to give debuts to 8 Academy players (plus Matt Smith not long after he signed his first pro deal) and integrate players like Brian Alainu’uese – all of whom will be better and stronger for their experiences in that last campaign.

The story of these last 5 seasons is not just about the head honcho though. Gregor has surrounded himself with a talented group of coaches and staff who share his methods and belief in how the game should be played. The regard that Toony holds this team behind the team is clear from the fact that he is taking a significant number of them with him to support his new role as head coach of Scotland. That means more farewells to a number of people who have made significant contributions to the Warriors success in recent years:

Dan McFarland

Forwards Coach
Joined from – Connacht (2015/16 season)
Moving to – Scotland
Replaced by – Jonathan Humphries (Scotland)

Matt Taylor

Defence Coach
Joined from – Queensland Reds (2012/13 season)
Moving to – Scotland
Replaced by – Kenny Murray

Gavin Vaughan

Head Performance Analyst
Joined from – Aironi (2012/13 season)
Moving to – Scotland
Replaced by – Toby West (Scotland)

Stuart Yule

Head of Strength & Conditioning
Joined from – English Institute of Sport (2009/10 season)
Moving to – Scotland
Replaced by – Phil Healey (Chiefs)

Thibault Giroud

Strength & Conditioning Coach
Joined 2016/17 season
Moving to – Toulon
Replaced by – Francisco Tavares (Chiefs)

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