1872 Cup: Rennie puts his faith in George Horne for Edinburgh clash

Scrum-half now ahead of Price and Pyrgos in pecking order

George Horne will wear the Glasgow Warriors number nine jersey against Edinburgh this weekend - ***Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk ***
George Horne will wear the Glasgow Warriors number nine jersey against Edinburgh this weekend - ***Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk ***

IT is not the first time George Horne has been handed the number nine jersey by Warriors head coach Dave Rennie. The scrum-half has started eight games for the team this season, but his selection yesterday [Thursday] in the side to face Edinburgh on Saturday evening is significant because it provides concrete evidence that the 22-year-old has indeed jumped ahead of Ali Price and Henry Pyrgos in the pecking order.

Horne’s previous starts since signing his first full-time deal last summer have either been during the Autumn and Six Nations international windows, against the PRO14’s two lowliest teams in Zebre and the Southern Kings, or in a dead-rubber against Exeter Chiefs in the Champions League.

This selection is different. The outcome of Saturday’s match will not impact Warriors’ final seeding in Conference A, but it is a derby clash against their nearest and dearest rivals, and Rennie has made it clear that he wants his team to generate some vital momentum to take into the play-offs.

Both Price and Pyrgos are fit and raring to go, and with three weeks off after this weekend there is no need to rest any players.

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“This is as good a side as we can select today,” confirmed Rennie. “It’s a credit to George. He has worked really hard on his game. On the technical side of things, Mike Blair has done a lot of work with him. And from a conditioning point of view, he has got into great shape. He’s a good kid, keen to learn and prepared to work hard. We’ve always said we would pick on form, so he has been rewarded.

“He’s a rare breed: incredibly quick but he can go for 80 minutes because he’s phenomenally fit.  There’s not too many nines in the world who can do that. Some are well-conditioned, but not fast; or they’re quick but they can’t go long enough. He really suits the kind of game we want to play, and it means that Edinburgh are going to have to be aware of him, which might create space for someone else.

“He has been our best performing nine. He’s had a great season – his speed around the track, his ability to get to the ball quickly, his ability to get second touches – he’s electric.”

“Most of it comes down to work-ethic – he’s worked really hard on his game – and to that end, guys like Henry and Ali have been great to him. They’ve shared a lot of knowledge and they’ve worked a lot together, and that’s helped fast-track what George is doing.

“We released him to go to the Commonwealth Games [earlier this month] which was a great opportunity for him. He’s been fantastic for us and deserves his opportunity to play in such a big game.”

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Price to Pay

Pyrgos will cover scrum-half from the bench, which means that there is no room in the match-day 23 for Price – who started 2018 as the popular choice to inherit the Scotland number nine jersey from Greig Laidlaw but has struggled to carry on the form he showed during his breakthrough year, and has paid a heavy price for a couple of wild passes which gifted important scores at crucial moments in big games.

“It’s a competitive position for us. He [Price] is a good man, he’s working hard on his game and he’s had a really good training week so far this week – so he’s continuing to put pressure on us for selection,” insisted Rennie.

“But George has been excellent; and I’ve been really wrapped with how Henry has gone in the last five or six weeks, so he gets the role of backing-up.”

All of which begs the question: should Horne be part of Gregor Townsend’s touring squad when Scotland set off for the Americas at the end of next month?

“That’s probably a question for Gregor but we’re starting him ahead of two pretty experienced half-backs,” was Rennie’s rather circumspect reply.

Dunbar denied

There is also no room in the team for Alex Dunbar, who has endured an injury ravaged season and struggled to impose himself in only his third game of the calendar year against Ulster last weekend. The centre now faces an uphill battle to usurp Sam Johnson and Nick Grigg – an unheralded duo at the start of the season who have been two of Warriors’ best performers during the campaign – for a place in the team’s midfield during the play-offs.

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Rennie went on to say that he is not overly concerned about his team’s fairly flat form in recent weeks, especially away from home. They have managed just one win over the Zebre and one draw against the Dragons from their last eight games on the road.

“I don’t know if it’s a mindset thing – to me it shouldn’t matter. The pitch is the same size wherever you go. Whether you’ve got a crowd cheering for you or not is irrelevant,” he said.

“We came up against a pretty desperate Ulster side last week. We had our chances but, in the end, we weren’t clinical enough … weren’t good enough. That’s what happens sometimes.

“The key is that we have to be at our best at semi-final and final time. That’s all that counts in the end. We have a three-week block leading into that. I’m happy with where we are. We have a good bunch of men and we have depth and quality to pick from. We just need to be sharper and more clinical.”

Pressure? What pressure?

Rennie was then asked if he was worried about his team’s ability to deal with pressure.

“Bar Munster, we are the only other side to win in South Africa against the Cheetahs, and we stole that game pretty late. We played pretty well against Munster here. I think there have been plenty of big games when we have fronted well so I don’t see it being an issue,” he replied.

“You don’t get yourself in this sort of spot without getting a few things right.

“In Europe, it was a hell of a pool, wasn’t it?” he continued. “Exeter still leading England, Montpellier still leading France, Leinster are clearly a great side, and us. We learnt a bit from that.

“What we are excited about is that we have a lot of our players who weren’t playing in the middle of the season against Edinburgh – guys like Ryan Wilson and Callum Gibbins – I think it was eight who were out but are now back fit – so we are happy with the team we’ve got.”

Glasgow Warriors (v Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield, Saturday 7.45pm): S Hogg; T Seymour, N Grigg, S Johnson, D Van der Merwe; F Russell, G Horne; A Allan, F Brown, Z Fagerson, J Gray, T Swinson, M Fagerson, C Gibbins, R Wilson (captan). replacements: J Bhatti, G Turrner, S Halanukonuka, R Harley, C Fusaro, H Pyrgos, P Horne, L Jones.

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About David Barnes 4004 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.