Glasgow Warriors flew to Belfast on Thursday afternoon for Friday night’s League clash with Ulster at Ravenhill with Coach Gregor Townsend fully aware of just how great a challenge this fixture represents.
The opening fixtures last weekend may have produced a shock 15 - 8 defeat for Ulster in Newport against the Dragons whilst Glasgow themselves were overcoming Cardiff Blues 22 - 15 - but Townsend recognises just how difficult the Ravenhill clash will be.
“Ulster were the best side in the League last season. They came up against a very good and highly-motivated Dragons side last week whilst not at their best themselves.
“We know this will be a very difficult game. The home crowd will get behind their side and make plenty of noise. No Scottish team has won at Ravenhill in six years but at the same time we had a very good away record last season.”
Many observors believe that the Warriors have the strongest squad in the League this year, a view underlined by the number of changes made in the starting line-up from the victorious side of last weekend.
“The squad is pretty much as expected. We’ve made eight changes plus one positional. There may be a lot of changes but we’ve picked a side to win. Stuart Hogg will be at fly-half and Henry Pyrgos the Captain. He’s well-respected and has done a good job in the past. We’ve got a number of leaders in our team.”
Al Kellock and Byron McGuigan both picked up injuries in that win over Cardiff Blues, knocks that will exclude them from any involvement tonight. Townsend shrugged off any potential handicap.
“It was great to start with a win last week, although we picked up a couple of injuries. We’ve looked really good in training this week. We had a great pre-season and the key is to keep focused.
“The players who went on tour with the Lions during the summer learned a lot. For any Northern Hemisphere player that really is the pinnacle.”
Recent speculation has focused on possible changes to the Heinekin Cup format - changes which may well mean a possible exclusion for Glasgow Warriors. The Scotstoun Coach dismissed the notion that thsi was a matter for concern.
“It’s all speculation as far as the Heinekin Cup is concerned. It’s not worth talking about until it actually happens. Any qualification process would simply mean that we had to work hard to ensure a high-enough finish in the League. The European Cup is an exciting tournament that had grown in stature in recent years.”
For Ryan Grant, tonight’s game represents a chance to re-establish himself in the Warriors’ line-up following injury.
“I’m looking forward to playing at the new stadium. The rebuilding won’t affect the game. The fans are very passionate in Ulster - it’s a great place to play. It’ll be a very tough game. Ulster will be looking to bounce back from last week’s defeat.”