It doesn’t get much harder than starting your campaign away at last year’s Guinness PRO12 defending champions Connacht, but that’s exactly what Jonny Gray and Glasgow Warriors have to contend with.
It will be a repeat of last season’s PRO12 semi-final that saw Connacht win 16-11 at the Sportsground against Glasgow before going on to beat Leinster in the final but Gray is targeting a very different result this time around.
The Scotland lock revealed last year’s semi-final loss was a painful experience for all involved at the Warriors, meaning this year he is determined to ensure there’s no repeat performance against the Irish province.
With a flurry of big-name arrivals in the PRO12 this summer and standards reaching an all-time high, Gray is predicting the closer league campaign yet.
“Every year the competition gets harder and harder, closer and closer, and the difference between first and eighth was just seven points at one stage last season,” said Gray.
“So every game is really competitive and over the past few years Connacht have been an outstanding team.
“They’re a very tough and physical team to play against, so it’s going to be very hard this season.
“Everyone’s hugely excited, but we’ve looked at it from last season and it hurts to look at it and miss out, and all credit to Connacht for going on to win it, they were deserving champions.
“It’s so close to call, but pre-season has been good and it’s been good to see the whole squad together. The new boys have settled in really well, they’ve made their debuts and had a taste of Glasgow rugby against Harlequins, they’ve done exceptionally well and it’s exciting.
“We’re all focused on this season, and to be involved at Glasgow with the fans they’ve got, being around the club daily feels like an honour.”
Dave Rennie has agreed a two-year deal to take over from Gregor Townsend as Glasgow Warriors’ head coach next summer.
Rennie, 52, will complete his contract as coach of Super Rugby outfit The Chiefs in Hamilton, New Zealand, before moving to Scotstoun, with Townsend replacing Vern Cotter as Scotland head coach.
But rather than causing disruption, Gray insists the coaching merry-go-round at Glasgow has actually lifted spirit and morale ahead of the season.
“Everyone at Glasgow is really happy for Gregor, he’s worked really hard and he’s really honest with us, every player that has worked with him has improved,” added Gray.
“But his departure is not until next year, so we need to keep working hard, focus on the year ahead and we’re extremely motivated. There’s a lot of pride in the Glasgow shirt, everybody wants to do well and to have a coach like Dave Rennie come in will be unbelievable.
“We’ve seen what he’s done with the Chiefs, he’s an outstanding coach and it will be great to work with him, but we have to focus on this season first.
“Gregor is very open and honest, always working on improvements, and there’ve been times where we’ve won games but still been disappointed in the performance. He always looks at the positives and negatives and works at ways for where it can get better.
“But first and foremost he’s a great guy, his knowledge of rugby is very high, so it’s great to be able to go to him for any rugby problem, but the quality he brings is brilliant.”
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final