Planet Rugby

Victory typifies Warrior spirit

18th May 2014 18:51

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Joy: Townsend and Glasgow

Glasgow Warriors' PRO12 semi-final win over Munster on Friday was the perfect embodiment of Gregor Townsend's club culture.

Two days on from the euphoric post-match scenes that unfolded under the Scotstoun floodlights as Glasgow Warriors reached an historic first-ever PRO12 final, one image remains indelibly etched on the mind's eye above all others.

It was captured moments after full-time, the players having embraced, jumped for joy and taken the acclaim from a brilliant home support: grinning from ear to ear, captain Al Kellock stood on the turf with beefy arm around teen sensation Jonny Gray; the master and the apprentice together.

It was the photographic embodiment of the culture and ethos Townsend and predecessor Sean Lineen have toiled tirelessly to create. Now, the rewards are being reaped.

Gray has made rapid progress in his first full season of professional rugby: still 19, he's won Test caps, and been awarded the PRO12 Young Player of the Year. He has a better skillset than big brother Richie.

It is a sign of how highly he is rated, how important a member of the squad he is that, when Kellock and Chris Cusiter were substituted, Gray took over the reins as Warriors skipper for the closing stages and the most tense part of the match as Glasgow kept Munster at bay.

For any fan of Scottish rugby, the semi-final as a whole marked a magnificent occasion. Typing away at the summit of the main stand was a far cry from the Murrayfield press gantry, but you wouldn't have known it from the irrepressible racket made by ten thousand Glaswegians, rising to a spine-tingling crescendo as Leone Nakarawa latched onto an quick-tap and offload from countryman Niko Matawalu to thrust deep into the visitors' half in the final ten minutes.

The place erupted when Donncha O'Callaghan spilled the ball into touch and Marius Mitrea raised the whistle to his lips for the last time. This was what a club should feel like.

Our closest neighbours may snigger and sneer at an apparently "paltry" attendance in a city of over a million people. The less churlish will appreciate how faltering and inhibited the growth of Scottish rugby has been in the professional era, and the true importance to the game north of Hadrian's Wall reaching the final carries.

It was certainly in stark contrast to the Warriors' inter-city rivals, an Edinburgh side whose attendances naturally render the national stadium a ghostly, atmospheric boneyard for all that their own supporters may display similar passion and fervour pitchside.

Alan Solomons is trying to grow and nurture his own culture in the capital, blowing apart the swashbuckling but try-leaking game-plan of old and laying in its stead the sturdy foundations of a solid defence and a hefty measure of pragmatism.

Given the degree of change within the squad, inconsistency was always to be expected, but the ease with which opponents have exposed glaring chinks in the Edinburgh armour must be a cause for concern. It will, as it did on the West coast, take time to manufacture success.

Back in Glasgow, the togetherness of Townsend's troops burns bright. They help each other move house, share lifts to club training sessions or along the M8 to Scotland camps.

Gordon Reid, the prop who powered through the claret-clad tacklers and slammed the ball over the line for what proved the decisive try dedicated his score to departing front-row colleague Moray Low, hailing his Exeter Chiefs-bound teammate's influence in the squad.

It was just another moment that typified what the Warriors and their head coach are all about.

Many baulked two years ago as Lineen was replaced by the untested Townsend having done such a sterling job with such poor resources for so long, all the more so given his successor's previous role as the national team's attack coach had not proved especially impressive.

But this is a man the SRU have rightly identified as a Scotland boss in the making - at least part of the reason he was entrusted with the reins at Scotstoun.

Usually contemplative and tranquil in the stands, Townsend was on the touchline as the clock ticked down, willing his battered and beaten side to make one more tackle, hit one more ruck.

His celebrations as Mitrea blew were filled with as much exuberance and ecstasy as any of his players', but now that the dust has settled, the thoughts will be deep and the appearance reverted to one of reflection.

For Townsend's self-proclaimed "proudest moment in coaching" could yet be bettered in spectacular fashion in Dublin.

By Jamie Lyall

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