GLASGOW WARRIORS head coach Franco Smith has conceded that he would have loved to have kept Ali Price on at Glasgow Warriors for the remainder of this season but was persuaded to let the scrum-half join Edinburgh on the loan deal which was announced earlier this week.
“Obviously, I don’t want to make a long story about it as enough has been said. We are disappointed to lose him, especially from my side, but there’s a big picture. I’ve been selling a big picture to Scottish Rugby for a long time and it was an important move,” said Smith.
Pressed on whether he wanted to let Price go, Smith responded: “No, obviously not. He’s a good player and he’s been here for a long time. But it’s understandable with everything taken into account. It’s a good decision in the end and we will stand by that – everyone must benefit from this.”
In terms of the upside for Glasgow, it is not clear whether that will be in the form a freeing up some extra cash in the budget for Smith to reinforce his squad elsewhere.
“I’m going to refrain because that question falls on [Warriors’ managing director] Al Kellock’s lap,” he said. “From a playing perspective, it looks like we’ve lost a player but we might have gained one in [32-year-old] Sean Kennedy. He’s been doing an excellent job for us and he was sat behind three international scrum-halves but now, suddenly, the light will shine on him again. I’m excited because I think he will do a similar job for us and we will be sure to have him during the Six Nation as he’s not currently in the national frame. We will give him time to develop in that role.”
32-year-old Duncan Weir has been handed the No 10 jersey for this weekend’s trip to the Ospreys, with centre/stand-off Tom Jordan dropping to the bench and Ross Thompson out the frame at the moment. Smith was tight-lipped about whether he would like to recruit in that position.
“I’m not going to confirm or deny anything in that regard,” he said. “For now, the squad is in a good position. We have a couple of cards hidden away that we can play at the right time. We’ll see how the season goes and see where they are needed.
“Currently, I’m backing everyone in this group to perform the best they can and as we develop the season there might be injuries and we can decide if we are going to add someone to the squad. But for now we are full steam ahead with the players that we’ve got.
“It’s about keeping the wheel turning. We’ve spoken about the long season ahead and using the right people at the right time. We want to keep the energy levels high, keep the enthusiasm and have everybody on par. We don’t want to sacrifice the result of the game so it’s small changes and we need the whole team to be at their best as we go into the important part of the season.
“Duncan’s worked really hard,” he added. “He’s adapted to last season and what we are expecting from a fly-half. Ross Thomson is still there in the background working hard for his opportunity to come. We are not discarding anything or anybody.
“It’s a classic example of a person chipping away every day and he’s physically in excellent form at the moment having really worked hard. It might look like rotation but it’s on merit and we’re looking forward to seeing him at the weekend.”
Smith also said he would have no issue with Prices playing for Edinburgh in the 1872 Cup double-header over Christmas and New Year. “I don’t mind him playing against us. think the reason he left doesn’t determine who he plays against. It doesn’t matter,” he explained.
Meanwhile, the coach had an uplifting update on Huw Jones, who has been undergoing assessment over the last two weeks on a foot injury he suffered against Connacht in round two of this URC campaign.
“It sounds very positive,” he said. “He’s got another week that he can take away from Scotstoun to get his holiday break and liberate his mind from everything that’s happened. He will then come back and start his return to play almost straight away. There was some positive news and there’s no further intervention needed from the medical side.”
He added that Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, George Horne, Rory Darge and the inured Kyle Steyn are also now on holiday for the next fortnight.
Two other notable absentees are George Turner [stomach bug] and Jack Dempsey [wrist injury], who have not played since returning from the World Cup.
“George was out from last Thursdaynd only re-joined training this Thursday morning,” explained Smith. “It was just some intestinal fluid so I didn’t want to unnecessarily take a chance with him and Angus Fraser is doing a good job for us, so we will have his [Turner’s] enthusiasm along with Dempsey and whoever else is on the fringe coming in at the right time.”
“Jack trained well with the non-23 group [this week],” he added. “He’ll probably have his first rugby week next week. We’ll see how he reacts to what he’s done today over the weekend, then hopefully put him into a contact environment. So, yes, his progression is leading to him playing in the next couple of weeks.”
At the other end of the M8, Edinburgh ‘senior’ coach Sean Everitt claimed that he was on the look-out for a fourth scrum-half even before the prospect of Price being directed his way came up.
“In our squad we were always a scrum-half short, and with the injury to Scotty Steele, the length of which is unbeknown to us at this stage, we obviously needed a No 9,” he said. “It’s something that we’ve needed on my arrival, and with the number of 9s that Glasgow have we came to an agreement and they have loaned us one.”
“Each squad of 45 needs four scrum-halves. At this stage we’ve only got two senior scrum-halves that are available to play, so I see this as adding depth in that position. Ben Vellacott and Charlie Shiel … if something happened to them we would be in a spot of bother as far as senior scrum-halves are concerned.
“So my responsibility here is to make the squad better and to grow depth within the squad in certain positions so we’re able to rotate in a very busy season [because] we’ve got 11 rounds on the trot including EPCR. So it’s a busy season and everyone will have an opportunity.
“It was negotiated between the two clubs,” he continued. “It was our wish to have someone within the Scottish set-up and we were just fortunate that Ali was the one that agreed to come on loan with us.”
“We’ll be meeting with Ali today [Friday] and going through our systems with him, and we’ll see how he goes on Monday at training. Like everyone else in our squad, he’ll be included in our selection discussions.”
“Scotty [Steele] has got some work to do on the [hip] injury. We’re hoping that his return to play is at the end of the month, but it’s not definite.”
Everitt also stressed that the arrival of Price will not reduce playing opportunities for academy prospects Hector Patterson (who sat on the bench for Edinburgh last weekend) and Finlay Burgess.
“Hector is 18-years-old,” he reasoned. “It’s fair to him and to us that we blood him. He’s done really well in training sessions for us and we’re not at all saying that we don’t rate him by bringing Ali in.
“But we will probably lose Hector to Scotland under-20s in the near future which would mean he wouldn’t be up for selection anyway. We needed to fill that hole.”
Asked about the prospect of Price’s switch east becoming a permanent arrangement, Everitt replied: “Being a new coach coming in obviously I’d like to look to see what Ali has to offer. At the moment he’s on loan but if Glasgow agree that we can keep him, and we see that he can add value and quality to our group going forward, then definitely there will be a discussion to keep him.
“My understanding [is that] his contract is up for renewal at the moment so it would have to depend on how Glasgow negotiate with him.”