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Townsend defends shock selection

Glasgow head coach Gregor Townsend insists he is not gambling with the Warriors' RaboDirect Pro12 prospects by dropping Scotland internationals Stuart Hogg and Duncan Weir.

The Scotstoun side host their first ever semi-final clash on Friday night, with Irish big guns Munster due in town.

Townsend's side have won all of their last eight games and take on the Heineken Cup semi-finalists fresh from thrashing Zebre 54-0 last week.

But the Glasgow boss has sprung a surprise by dropping 11 of the side which walloped the hapless Italian outfit - including Scotland RBS Six Nations campaigners Hogg and Weir, who fail to even make the substitutes' bench.

Back issues which have plagued full-back Hogg recently have cost him his spot but erratic form is behind Weir's loss of the number 10 jersey.

In their place come inexpierienced duo Peter Murchie and Finn Russell but Townsend is happy with his starting XV.

He said: "We have used 36 players over the last three games and the players have responded really well. Most of them have grabbed their opportunities to put themselves up for selection for this game.

"Our last two performances have been excellent and I know that no matter what the combinations we put out on Friday, we would have a strong side.

"Leaving out some of the guys we have is not a gamble. It was a difficult decision but I'm happy with the team we are putting out.

"I've watched them in training this week and they look excellent. I believe this is the right squad to face Munster.

"But the other thing to look at is that we have got an excellent bench this weekend, so if we have to change anything for tactics or injuries, we know we have players coming on who are as good as the guy they are replacing."

Glasgow have reached the last four of the former Celtic League on three previous occasions but this is the first time they have won the right to host the clash.

And the enormity of the game - expected to be played out in front of a record 10,000 crowd - is not lost on the head coach.

"This is the biggest game in the club's history," declared Townsend. "It's the first time we have had a home semi-final and we're now looking for the biggest crowd in the club's history.

"We've got experience of playing in semi-finals, this is our fourth in the last five years and we'll be doing all we can to get through.

"We know how tough it will be against Munster. I don't really care about who is favourites. They were the only side from our group to make the last four of the European Cup and are full of British Lions and Irish internationals.

"But we are going into this game with good momentum. Now we just need to make sure we put that into an 80-minute performance."

Captain Al Kellock will lead the Warriors at Scotstoun, but as well as Hogg and Weir, fellow Dark Blues internationals Sean Lamont and Moray Low are also omitted from the starting line-up.

Wings Sean Maitland and Tommy Seymour start in place of Lamont and Niko Matawalu, while Mark Bennett replaces Peter Horne at outside centre and Chris Cusiter has been chosen ahead of Henry Pyrgos at scrum-half.

In the pack, Dougie Hall comes in for Pat MacArthur at hooker while Jon Welsh replaces Moray Low at tight-head.

After being named the RaboDirect PRO12 Young Player of the Year at the weekend, Jonny Gray replaces Tim Swinson in the second row.

Rob Harley has pinched James Eddie's slot at blind-side flanker and Josh Strauss comes in for Leone Nakarawa at number eight.


From Belfast Telegraph