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Ulster ready for battle as Glasgow Warriors hit the heights

By Michael Sadlier

Published 20/05/2015

Touchdown: Glasgow’s Stuart Hogg dives over for a try against Ulster on Saturday at Scotstoun
Touchdown: Glasgow’s Stuart Hogg dives over for a try against Ulster on Saturday at Scotstoun

Sunday was all about the PRO12 awards bash and, notably, three of them were handed out to Glasgow Warriors.

And they were significant awards too. Gregor Townsend and the about to retire Alastair Kellock were the respective winners of the Coach of the Year and Chairman's Award and, in fairness, it would be hard to find two more key operators in the Warriors set-up.

But probably of the most interest was the one entitled Collision Kings which was also carried off back to Scotstoun.

This one went to the side showing the greatest efficiency at the breakdown and in the essential fundamental of all defensive work, namely tackling.

Not bad and just what you might expect from a side many believe may now go on to claim the title they so crave.

But they also managed to get three players in the season's Dream Team with former Ulster winger Tommy Seymour, centre Peter Horne and rather frighteningly-bearded back-rower Josh Strauss all making the cut.

But all of this has not added great value to Glasgow's still to be fulfilled ambitions.

The honours are one thing, and so is the bonus point win they managed over Ulster last Saturday to finish top of the pile, but the only currency they now want to deal in involves the accumulation of trophies.

Making five of the last six PRO12 play-offs and being hailed as a breakthrough side under the vision of Townsend's desire to play attractive but winning rugby on the back of a steely defence is frankly no longer sufficient.

And, yes, they have a truly fearsome reputation for winning at Scotstoun - only Toulouse have sneaked past them this season in a Champions Cup clash - but the PRO12 trophy just has to be won.

They reached their first league final last season, but just couldn't overcome their unfamiliarity of being in this position and the emotional tide that day at the RDS which carried Leinster through as they saw off Brian O'Driscoll and Leo Cullen into retirement.

But they maintain they have come back from the experience as a stronger and wiser squad.

Few would argue the point too forcefully and they have still profited in the league despite the loss of some very decent talent with Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar, Tim Swinson, DTH van der Merwe and Sean Maitland to injury. So just what have they got which has taken them to this point.

Innovative coaching and leadership qualities

Townsend and Kellock (pictured) set the tone both in preparation and channelling that vision onto the field.

The coach's desire to play a game of width and pace has long been part of the Warriors' make-up since he arrived in 2012.

Club stalwart Kellock is still a totemic figure after nine seasons skippering the squad.

The 33-year-old is an inspirational presence, alongside the more dynamic and just as influential Jonny Gray, and commands huge respect.

A back three built for finishing

In Stuart Hogg they have a full-back who can turn almost any situation into an attack of substance to strike fear into any defence.

Though he and Townsend have had their troubles, the Warriors will look to their full-back to ignite their game and any loose kicking in his direction will be punished.

And what of the wings? Tommy Seymour, Sean Lamont and Niko Matawalu can all operate to good effect in this area but, of the trio, the player who can cause most defences severe jitters is the Fijian international with his unorthodox running lines.

Midfield efficiency with cutting a edge

Peter Horne and Richie Vernon have provided Townsend with a combination who perform all the essential duties and also bring try-scoring ability to bear as well.

Horne bagged a hat-trick against Cardiff Blues while Vernon was the one who crossed for the sought after bonus point try last weekend against Ulster. Their line-speed, strength in the tackle and desire to seek out scores is a very formidable weapon.

An out-half to pull it all together

Finn Russell seems to fit the plan as a playmaker when he is on song. Though only 22, Russell is the vital cog in the Warriors machine as his performance last Saturday showed with two tries and a personal haul of 22 points though Weir's kicking stats are better as are those of Horne.

A hard-working and ball-carrying back row

This is where the Warriors really make things count. They don't necessarily possess stellar names, but Strauss, Rob Harley, Chris Fusaro and Adam Ashe are all perfect fits for what Townsend wants.

Their all-round game complements the Glasgow game-plan and with Ryan Wilson also available, Townsend has an embarrassment of riches in this area.

The problem for Townsend is having to leave some of them out.

And weaknesses?

Funnily enough, there aren't too many. As above, too many back-rowers means that Townsend has to find the right combination now that the serious business is upon us.

And then there is scrum-half.

Henry Pyrgos is a livewire - though Rhys Webb recently kept him quiet - but he can be quite loose, then there is Matawalu and where to put him.

Perhaps one of the wings is more prudent for his attacking skills but that is another big call for Townsend who also needs Russell to deliver a command performance.

The Warriors are not exactly renowned as wantonly destructive scrummagers and the Ospreys recently caught their front five dozing at their lineout defence.

Beating the Collision Kings in their Scotstoun fortress will require quite the performance from Neil Doak's underdogs on Friday night.

Belfast Telegraph

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