Thursday 18 January 2018

Townsend has Lam on menu as the champs aim to stay on summit

Lam: "Everything we do is around improving and getting better." Pic: Sportsfile

Connacht have come out on the loss side of the ledger from their off-season dealings in the transfer market as Glasgow Warriors return to the Sportsground tomorrow (KO 5.15, Sky Sports 1).

The loss of marquee Ireland international Robbie Henshaw, line-out leader Aly Muldowney, tight-head Rodney Ah You and first-choice out-half AJ McGinty has ripped the heart out of the champions.

In addition, it is one thing to scale the mountain, quite another to stay at the summit.

More than ever, the pressure will weigh on the shoulders of the coaches and the buy-in of John Muldoon's men

"Everything we do is around improving and getting better," said coach Pat Lam.

"We sort of see the trophy as an outcome of the work we've done.

"Our plan in the first week, is like the plan we had in the last week, emphasise the message that 'that was great but we continue on with what we're doing'."

Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend will be committed to go out on a high before succeeding Vern Cotter at Scotland at the end of the season.

The canny Scot gave little away at the launch of the competition, other than to promise the Warriors will aim for retribution in Galway.

"You take on the champions on their home patch. There's no bigger game than that in a normal season," he smiled.

"When your last two games have been against the same team on the same ground, and you've lost them both, then we'll be highly motivated to go out with the strongest team that we can and improve on the last time we played them."

There is an impressive presence about Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus as Munster open their account at the Scarlets tomorrow (KO 3.0, Sky Sports 1).

However, the confirmation yesterday that talented Johnny Holland has been forced to retire comes as a cruel blow to the out-half and Munster.

The news of Ruan Pienaar's exit next summer comes as a real body blow for Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss at home to the Dragons tonight (KO 7.35, BBC2 NI).

It comes just as they look set for big things, with the introduction of Charles Piutau and Marcel Coetzee.

There have been enough flashes of brilliance in pre-season, especially against Northampton, to suggest this could be their year in the league for the first time since 2006. The addition of Georgian tight-head prop Anton Peikrishvili, capped 23 times by his country, should shore up the scrum in the injured absence of Wiehahn Herbst, Rodney Ah You, Ricky Lutton and Jonny Simpson.

Ulster: C Piutau; C Gilroy, S Olding, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; B Herron, R Pienaar; C Black, R Herring (capt), R Kane, P Browne, F van der Merwe, C Ross, S Reidy, R Wilson.

Dragons: C Meyer; A Warren, S Beard, J Dixon, P Howard; N Macleod, S Pretorius; S Hobbs, R Thomas (capt), C Mitchell, C Hill, R Landman, O Griffiths, N Cudd, E Jackson.

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