FIRST the bad news: Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray and Finn Russell are all contending with niggling injuries and will play no part in Glasgow’s Champions Cup match against Leinster on Sunday. Now the good news: Dave Rennie expects all three to be available next week, when the Warriors’ pool campaign ends with a home game against Exeter – the last match before the Six Nations Championship.
The head coach is also hopeful of a return for Tommy Seymour, who has missed several games because of an injured foot. But Fraser Brown, although he has resumed non-contact training, is still sidelined because of concerns about a series of concussions, and has yet to be given a date for a comeback.
If Glasgow had a place in the last eight to play for rather than having lost all four of their pool games to date, it is conceivable that Gray and Russell would have made the trip to Dublin. As it is, there is no point in risking them with more important battles for both club and country to come. Hogg, meanwhile, was due to have come into the team this week after being out of action with a hip injury since the Autumn Tests, but has been delayed by what is thought to be a minor matter.
“He had a little bit of an issue with a foot as well,” Rennie said of the full-back. “He had a scan. It still looks good. The plan was to bring him off the bench this week and then start him next week, but he’s not quite right. We’re pretty confident about next week.
“Finn’s had a dodgy shoulder for a number of weeks. He was close to not starting against Edinburgh. He’s been rehabbing that. We think this is the best option for him and we’re confident he’ll be right next week.
“Jonny hasn’t trained all week either. He’s carrying a handful of niggles, so it’s been a good week for him – he’s been basically focused on rehab, to try and get those little knocks sorted. So he’s out of the mix as well. Obviously we’re expecting him to be back on the park next week.
“No clearer for Fraser yet. Although he’s back doing a lot of training, we’re keeping him out of contact.”
The Warriors’ injury worries stretch well beyond that quintet, as is evidenced by the fact there are four scrum-halves in the 23 to play the Pool 3 leaders. In addition to starting nine Ali Price, Niko Matawalu is on the wing – admittedly, a familiar position for him by now – and Henry Pyrgos and George Horne are on the bench.
A full-strength Glasgow side would be hard-pressed to get the better of Leinster at the RDS, so on the face of it this selection will do well to avoid a serious beating. Nonetheless, Rennie will call on his fringe players to rise to the occasion and stake a claim for a place in the side while the senior internationals are away on Scotland duty.
“That’s just where we’re at from an injury point of view,” the coach said of his back selections. “There are a number of other backs who are fit but not registered. “Leinster are one of the best sides in Europe – you’ve got to get excited by that, for a start, playing over there in Dublin. It’s a good test. That’s the exciting thing about being in a tough pool – there are questions asked of us each time and that will help us in our other comps. We’ve still got plenty to play for, and there are a number of young fellas who have got an opportunity to make a statement. We’ve had a really good week of preparation and are looking forward to the clash on Sunday.”
One positive amidst all the injury concerns is the return from suspension of George Turner. Rennie believes the hooker could have a vital role to play in counteracting a Leinster side who, with a five-point lead over Montpellier in Pool 3, are close to securing a place in the quarter-finals. “It’s great to have George back. He’s a hell of an athlete – he’s aggressive, and probably one of our most dominant tacklers.
“That’s going to be important going into a game against a side that’s very good at looking after the ball and want to take us on up front. Yeah, great to have George back after what seems like a pretty lengthy suspension based on other suspensions.”
Glasgow Warriors (v Leinster at the RDS, Sunday, 1pm): R Jackson; L Jones, H Jones, N Grigg, N Matawalu; P Horne, A Price; J Bhatti, G Turner, S Halanukonuka, R Harley, G Peterson, M Fagerson, M Smith, A Ashe. Substitutes: G Stewart, A Allan, D Rae, K McDonald, C Fusaro, G Horne, B Thomson, H Pyrgos.
Leinster: J Larmour; F McFadden, R Henshaw, Isa Nacewa, J Lowe; J Sexton, L McGrath; J McGrath, S Cronin, T Furlong, D Toner, S Fardy, J Murphy, J van der Flier, J Conan. Substitutes: B Byrne, C Healy, A Porter, J Ryan, D Leavy, N McCarthy, R Byrne, R Kearney.