When it comes to the sporting landscape in Scotland’s second city, football is king. The Old Firm rivalry was the only matter that concerned the Glaswegian sportsman as Celtic and Rangers did battle for various glories. Alas, the intense passion for the Association code has lessened with the Ibrox team’s demise and the Bhoys’ yearly procession to the league title. In the vacuum some supporters have turned their attention to the oval game, where the team is eighty minutes away from Scottish club rugby’s finest achievement.
The Glasgow Warriors arrive into Saturday’s Pro 12 final at the RDS on the back of a nine-game winning run. Gregor Townsend’s men have played some scintillating rugby this year. The Warriors ended the regular season with the league’s best defence and the most wins accumulated. Only Leinster, the champions, finished above them in the table.
Coupled with their recent form and success, the Warriors achieved their highest home attendance ever when they took on Munster in the playoff semi-final. With four semi-final appearances in the last five years the Scotstoun side is in rude health, but things were not always so rosy for the Glaswegians.
On the 27th March 2007, the SRU announced the closure of The Borders in favour of concentrating their efforts on spreading the rugby gospel to Glasgow. The controversial decision provoked understandable outrage in the Border regions, (Scotland’s rugby stronghold) given that Glasgow suffered from poor results and attendances. And with the city’s rich history in football, the likelihood of the oval game winning over Glaswegians was minimal. Nonetheless, the authorities pressed ahead with their agenda and the professional rugby team was kept in the city.
Results on the field did not match the ambition off it as Glasgow struggled at home and in Europe failing to mount a serious title challenge or get out of a Heineken Cup pool (something which they still have not achieved). But their fortunes took an upturn when they famously defeated Toulouse at the Stade Ernst Wallon in 2009. The Warriors finished fifth in the league that year and when the playoffs were introduced, then Head Coach Sean Lineen, managed to guide his charges to the last four two seasons out of three.
In 2012, the SRU controversially hired Gregor Townsend as the main man at the Warriors. Townsend, an ex-international, was a part of the Scottish coaching ticket that failed miserably at the World Cup in 2011. Fans and pundits felt it was a poor decision from those in charge of rugby in Scotland as they believed Lineen was the man to lead the Warriors to the next level. The pessimists have had their doubts emphatically quashed by Townsend as his team play a high tempo game with confidence and skill whilst having plenty of Glaswegian grit and grunt in defence.
What has made Glasgow’s success the sweeter is that the team is primarily made up of natives. Of course there have been astute foreign signings such as Josh Strauss and Nikola Matawalu. But the use of home grown talent by Townsend has been a welcome tonic to Scotland’s playing number problems, given the fact that Edinburgh, the only other pro team in the country, is packed with overseas imports.
Seven years on from being backed by the men in charge of rugby in Scotland, the Glasgow Warriors are preparing for the biggest game in Scottish club rugby history. They are playing a brand of rugby the Scottish national team could only dream of emulating and a permanent home at Scotstoun has given the Warriors a base to grow as well as an identity. Lifting the Pro 12 trophy in Dublin would be the perfect way to repay the faith and effort invested in the team by the SRU and continue Glasgow’s rugby revolution.
Matt Cassidy, Pundit Arena.