Sunday 17 December 2017

Pyrgos challenges Glasgow to forge winning mentality

Henry Pyrgos, Glasgow Warriors, is tackled by Jack Carty, Connacht in April during the Guinness PRO12, Round 20, Connacht v Glasgow Warriors (Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE)
Henry Pyrgos, Glasgow Warriors, is tackled by Jack Carty, Connacht in April during the Guinness PRO12, Round 20, Connacht v Glasgow Warriors (Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE)
David Kelly

David Kelly

There were 13 minutes left in Scotstoun last Friday and Glasgow Warriors were, once again, fighting another losing battle against their own credibility as realistic Pro12 title challengers.

Trailing 14-9 to Ulster, fellow travellers in perennial lost causes, Gregor Townsend called Canadian winger DTH van der Merwe to enter the fray.

"Go and enjoy yourself," the Glasgow coach instructed his soon-to-depart flier. These were his simple instructions. "Enjoy yourself."

Townsend - in his playing days an enigmatic out-half who forgot to bring his boots upon his international debut, and was just as likely to throw an intercept as flick a pass behind his back - knew his men had been prepared for every eventuality.

But with 67 minutes on the clock, this was a situation that called for character, not science. Van der Merwe responded with a stunning late try to seal victory with just minutes remaining.

"Gregor is like he played the game really," says Scottish international scrum-half Henry Pyrgos, a key component of the Warriors' multi-faceted approach - it was he who eased the ball into the hands of out-half Finn Russell, whose audacious pass cut out three defenders and allowed Van der Merwe to score.


"He's a massive part of what we do. It had been growing even before he came him. He coaches like he plays - he wants to bring our attack in to threaten other teams from all over the place.

"He's on the training field every day trying to improve our skills. He works with us individually and every one of us have improved.

"Tactically he works really hard- he knows how to take advantage of other teams.

"He gives the squad confidence and belief. He's a really positive guy, he knows our skill-set and he wants us to play positive rugby really."

Townsend and his side have mirrored those other nearly-men of European rugby, Clermont, in recent times; call Glasgow a Celtic Clermont and Pyrgos  readily chuckles.

But a series of near-misses, final defeats upon semi-final defeats, betray the fact that Glasgow are not merely hapless charlatans; when we spoke to the coach at the recent Pro12 awards ceremony, he revealed he would be studying DVDs before midnight as the party swirled around him.

"If we were to score five tries but lose because the defence was poor or loose or undisciplined, then we'd change the way we play," the coach insisted then. "We do change from game to game and we believe it will put us in a position of winning."

There remains an impatience for this side to finally fulfil their immense promise in tomorrow's Belfast final against Munster.

"It would be massive for the game in Scotland as a whole and in Glasgow it would be huge," says Pyrgos (26), who has seen the once moribund side sell out their 10,000 capacity venue more than once in this football-dominated city.

"The interest has really grown here in the past few years. So winning this final would give us a boost. We have belief on the national stage but winning would make the difference.

"You can see that with the Irish teams, the benefit of winning just gives than extra confidence. It won't mean anything in terms of winning the World Cup or anything but the confidence it would give us would be intangible.

"We haven't been able to get the results we have wanted but we're all desperate to get wins. We've bred a culture of confidence with Glasgow and that can only be good for Scottish rugby."

Now, to frank their achievements in returning respectability to the oft-derided Scottish game, the culture of confidence must eventually be supplanted by the certainty of triumph.

"We know all that," says the player, who spent most of his life in England. "We look at big teams like Leinster who have picked up so many big wins in Europe and the league. We're looking to make that step up.

"Last year was a small step but we didn't reach where we wanted to.

"This is another opportunity. We feel we have great belief and confidence in the squad. We just need to put in that performance that will give us the win."

With Conor Murray an unlikely starter, Pyrgos would be expected to win his personal duel with Duncan Williams and, although Paul O'Connell will play his final game for Munster, Glasgow, too have their share of imminent departures, including Van der Merwe and another second-row captain colossus, Al Kellock.

"Conor is a very dominant player and it would have been great to test myself against him. But I've played against Duncan Williams a few times and he's a good player as well," he says.

"Paul is an amazing figure in world rugby. It will be a tremendous occasion for him but we have guys like Al - our captain for nine years - and others moving on.

"There has been chat about that, it's the last chance we'll be together like this and we want to make sure we do something special."

Irish Independent

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