DAVE RENNIE provoked a few raised eyebrows when he opted to leave Finn Russell on the bench and start Peter Horne in the crucial stand-off role for Glasgow Warriors in their 1872 Cup first leg clash against Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield last Saturday. And in the aftermath of a shock defeat for the men from the west against a capital outfit forced to play 75 minutes with just 14 men after the early sending-off of prop Simon Berghan, there was more than a few mutterings among the Warriors faithful about the Kiwi-coach having made a massive miscalculation.
If the return of Russell to the starting line-up for this afternoon’s rematch is a tacit admission that a mistake was made, then Rennie was not ready to publicly acknowledge such a scenario when discussing his team selection for the game.
“The answer to that is no,” was his gruff reply when asked if had got the initial selection wrong.
“Finn is a starting international ten. Peter started against Montpellier and he got a chance to back it up last week. Now Finn comes back in and he has been in pretty good form for us.”
“When the game breaks up he is lethal. He did a couple of things at the weekend which meant we should have stolen the game but we didn’t. I am happy with the way he is going.”
Among Russell’s more telling contributions after his arrival on the park during the 48th minute of last week’s game were two penalties dispatched with pinpoint accuracy right into the corner of the park – the first of which set-up Glasgow’s second try, and the second of which would have created another score had Lee Jones managed to latch onto the stand-off’s brilliantly weighted cross-field kick during the next phase.
Then, a few moments after that missed opportunity, Russell conjured up a moment of sublime skill with a cheeky chip over the top which he collected himself to ignite another promising attack, which was subsequently derailed by a loose pass from Huw Jones.
There was also a powerful break-out by Russell from his own half after a neat exchange of passes with Ruaridh Jackson near the hour mark, which might have delivered more had Horne – who had now moved to inside centre – not sent an aimless grubber kick into the in-goal area during the next phase.
Things just did not click for Horne last week. That was not the only time h let Edinburgh off the hook with a wayward kick, and he generally struggled to impose himself on the game with ball in hand. But Rennie is clearly determined that the 28-year-old Fifer should not be cast as a scape-goat.
“Look, I don’t want to spend time in media sessions berating players,” said the coach. “If he [Horne] had his time over again he would have done a couple of things different – he was frustrated a couple of times when he kicked when we needed to keep the ball in hand. I have a lot of respect for him, he is a quality player and very professional. He will grow from that.”
Stand-off is not the only significant change Rennie has made as he tries to rediscover the winning formula which has deserted the Warriors in each of their last three outings.
Scotland and Lions winger Tommy Seymour has been rested with Fijian livewire Niko Matawalu being handed the number 11 jersey.
“He [Seymour] has a crooked toe that he has had for a while. He did it against Samoa and battled his way through the rest of the international window. He needs time off – it is maybe two or three-week injury,” explaied Rennie.
Meanwhile, Huw Jones drops to the bench with Nick Grigg getting the nod at outside centre.
“We were pleased with how Nick did against Montpellier and it was a tough one leaving him out last week,” said Rennie.
In the pack, Kiran McDonald replaces Scott Cummings in the second-row and Matt Fagerson comes in at number eight for Samu Vunisa.
“Scott has been involved basically every week and he was involved in all the Scottish stuff so he didn’t get a rest then, so we always planned to rotate him out for this weekend. Jonny Gray needs to be rested next week against Zebre so Scott will come back in then.”
“Matt has obviously been injured for a number of weeks – he was available last week but we decided not to use him. He played pretty well for us earlier in the year so it’s a big game for him because he’s still young enough to play Scotland under-20s. He’s got a big future for our club so we’re keen to get him out there.”
“He’s a good athlete, he is very quick, has great footwork and an ability to get in behind defences, which we battled with at the weekend. He’s explosive and can create a bit of damage, and he’s pretty good post-tackle. He’s not a big man but he’s a handy lineout forward, so he deserves another crack.”
“When you make changes boys are highly motivated to grab their opportunity, and that’s what we expect,” Rennie added.
“Last week was hugely disappointing – not just for me, but for everyone involved. What we put on the park that night just wasn’t good enough. We created a hell of a lot of opportunities and when we took the boys back through it and reviewed the game there were so many times when if we’d scored the game would have been gone. But we didn’t put them away and to Edinburgh’s credit they hung in there and forced the issue right at the end. We’re really disappointed with that performance, it’s not good enough and we need to be better this week.”
“It highlights that attitude is crucial and I just don’t think we were sharp enough at the weekend. You’ve got to be clinical and take your opportunities. Edinburgh only had a couple and they got down in our corner and drove a couple of line-outs and forced a bit of pressure. We have been converting opportunities down at the other end of the field pretty well, but if you don’t get it right and you don’t have the attitude quite right then you get hurt.”
Glasgow Warriors (v Edinburgh at Scotstoun, Saturday, 3.15pm): R Jackson; L Jones, N Grigg, A Dunbar, N Matawalu; F Russell, A Price; J Bhatti, F Brown, Z Fagerson, K McDonald, J Gray, R Harley, M Smith, M Fagerson. Substitutes: P MacArthur, O Kebble, S Halanukonuka, G Peterson C Fusaro, G Horne, P Horne, H Jones.