Belfast Telegraph

Warriors seek to lay down a marker against Ulster

By Michael Sadlier

Now it's time to find out if there is much substance to all the pre-season hype.

After their strong finish to last season's PRO12, and subsequent narrow defeat in the semi-finals at eventual winners Leinster, there is a weight of expectation lingering around Glasgow Warriors this term as they seek to make a fourth league play-off in five seasons.

And after coming close to a stuttering start in their 22-15 win over Cardiff Blues at Scotstoun, before the late winning score from ex-Ulster player Tommy Seymour, the Warriors – who have Seymour in tonight's starting side – are now about to find out if they have begun their season in the right shape to make an early surge towards their ultimate goal of making a winning a league final.

And tonight's challenge, along with that of next week, could hardly be more testing. Gregor Townsend's squad now have to come to Ravenhill seeking a first victory at the ground since 2009 before then gathering themselves to face Leinster when they turn up the following week at Scotstoun.

So, first up, the Warriors have to take on a side they are pretty familiar with having played Ulster four times last season thanks to being drawn together in the same Heineken Cup pool.

And they come into to tonight's game with a pretty strong looking line-up thanks to Stuart Hogg and Ryan Grant returning to the club's colours after their involvement with the Lions while try scoring winger DTH van der Merwe adds notable finishing power to a backline already including Sean Lamont.

Needless to say, Townsend (pictured) is talking up Ulster's record at Ravenhill and how his squad will have to be at their sharpest.

"We are well aware of the strengths of our opponents and their home record so we will have to be close to our best at Ravenhill," Townsend said yesterday when the team was unveiled at Glasgow airport.

Our games against Ulster last season were very competitive and I see this contest following a similar pattern," the coach added.

Indeed, the final of those four occasions the sides met in the last campaign saw Townsend's side win 20-14 in Glasgow though coming to Ravenhill in search of something similar has clearly not come easy to the Scots.

Townsend praised their defensive effort in last week's hard fought result but it is also worth noting that when it comes to scoring tries the Warriors have shown a healthy appetite for crossing the line.

Last season they racked up an attention-grabbing 66 touchdowns in the PRO12 to make them the top try scoring side in the league with DTH van der Merwe scoring 10, a mere one behind Edinburgh's Tim Visser.

Of course, they also need to have the ability to grind out wins when required, which they demonstrated against the Blues last week.

They look a bit light on leadership up front for tonight's game but even though they will be missing injured skipper Alastair Kellock, there will be plenty of guidance provided at half-back should the pack, which includes Rob Harley and an engine room of Tim Swinson and 19-year-old Jonny Gray, win sufficient ball.

Henry Pyrgos is skippering the side from scrum half while Ruaridh Jackson is sure to have his say after coming off the bench against the Blues to notable effect. And talking of the bench, they also have plenty of clout there as well with Chris Cusiter the back-up scrum half while Dougie Hall, Moray Low and Richie Vernon can surely bolster the Warriors' pack.

It's still very early in the season, but Glasgow are eager to put down a marker.

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