Scotland must trust in Warriors

Date published: April 15 2014

The hopes of a faltering and much-maligned rugby nation rest upon Glasgow Warriors and their RaboDirect PRO12 title aspirations.

The hopes of a faltering and much-maligned rugby nation rest upon Glasgow Warriors and their RaboDirect PRO12 title aspirations.

If I had a pound for every piece I've read since the Six Nations purporting to solve Scottish rugby's problems, I'd have enough cash to add a few more South Africans to Edinburgh's playing roster.

The suggestions put forth have ranged from sacking Scott Johnson to making more use of London Scottish as a tool for development. Needless to say, some are more plausible than others.

In Scotland, it's been a tough season on the international front – not as tough as the doom-sayers claim, but nowhere near as rosy as SRU Chief Mark Dodson would have us believe. The obstacles are large, multifold and won't be fixed overnight; we are paying for years of persistence with a system that is at best ineffective and at worst doomed to failure.

The national team, though no pushovers when selections and tactics are right, appear jaded and utterly devoid of confidence; the 51-3 trouncing in Cardiff a month ago today was a crushing blow to a side famous for mental fragility.

In short, Scottish rugby needs a lift. Enter Glasgow Warriors.

While Edinburgh's PRO12 campaign will end with a whimper, their West coast rivals have the chance to do something special; something the game north of the border needs desperately, but has not tasted for fifteen years: silverware.

For the third year running, Glasgow are in line for a domestic play-off berth. Though Gregor Townsend will not be counting his chickens, the Warriors are odds-on to wrap up a top-four finish. And where trips to Leinster in 2012 and 2013 seemed daunting semi-final tasks even to a swashbuckling side in top form, this time, things are a little different.

If predecessor Sean Lineen, with a budget Heart of Midlothian Football Club would snigger at, laid the foundations for success, then Townsend has built a four-story mansion. With Dodson's additional pro-team funding, the head coach has depth in every position, striking a fine squad balance between Scots or soon-to-be Scots and talented foreign imports.

What's more, his team have nothing to fear. Three of Ireland's four proud provinces occupy the other play-off spots. Glasgow have beaten them all.

Seven days after Munster tore Toulouse to pieces at Thomond Park, the Warriors stormed their Limerick fortress, raided the ramparts and emerged with a 17-point win. Few teams pull off such a feat; even fewer outplay the crimson giants so comprehensively on their home patch. Glasgow would have secured a four-try bonus point too had Ryan Wilson not fallen foul of a dose of white line fever.

Friday's Scotstoun showdown with an Ulster side missing several big names but rampant against Connacht last weekend is a massive game, and a barometer of the mental toughness of Townsend's troops. As yet, they remain unable to negotiate the cerebral barrier of European rugby, but the Warriors possess a steely nerve in the PRO12 out of keeping with the national team; the flamboyance and attacking splendour of last season has been tempered a little, dosed with hard-nosed pragmatism.

And just imagine the impact winning something would have on Scottish rugby, where the current mood matches the prevailing climate: cold, barren and grey. Sure, the PRO12 title is unlikely to spark thousands of Scots to take up the game – most fans would probably struggle to recognise the trophy if someone bashed their brains in with it – but what a shot in the arm it would give the nation.

These are testing times for Scotland and the SRU, with the game seemingly on life support and in danger of slipping away if the slide is not arrested. Glasgow have within their grasp an opportunity to charge up the defibrillators and jolt Scottish rugby to life. The knock-on effects would be marked.

It sounds grandiose, as though I am bestowing too much responsibility, too great a burden upon the hitherto sturdy shoulders of 23 Warriors. But none of this is beyond Glasgow; in truth, it should be their target. The rest of Scotland is counting on them.

By Jamie Lyall