DANNY WILSON has selected 11 players who had game time for Scotland during the recent Autumn Test Series in his starting XV – plus Jamie Dobie on the bench – for tomorrow afternoon’s return to United Rugby Championship duty away to Benetton.
Notable absentees are tight-head prop Zander Fagerson and scrum-half Ali Price, who are rested after touring with the Lions last summer and starting all four of the Autumn Tests, Scott Cummings, who is injured, and co-captain Ryan Wilson, who is playing for the Barbarians against Samoa at Twickenham.
“For Scott [Cummings], we’re hoping it’s just a one-week injury with a shoulder issue from Scotland’s game against Japan,” explained Wilson.
“With Ali and Zander, we need to manage rest time for certain players, so there’s a big picture plan for those guys,” he added. “They get a rest this weekend, and you’ll see some more get a rest next weekend. We cannot go from four Test matches on the bounce, into two league games, two European games, two derbies, back to the league, Europe again and then back into Six Nations, without any breaks – they’ll be burnt out. So, we’ve got to manage them, and this is part of that process.”
Meanwhile, Ewan Ashman, who joined the club on Monday on a loan deal until the end of the season has been recalled by Sale Sharks as emergency injury cover – but Wilson insisted that the hooker will be back at Scotstoun soon and will not be yo-yoing back and forward to the AJ Bell Stadium during the months ahead.
“Sale need him to play this weekend and he wasn’t due to play for us, although he has been here getting up to speed with things,” he said. “This is a one-off, a bit of goodwill between two clubs and a game for Ewan – but you’ll see him playing for us very soon.”
With Fraser Brown, the team’s other co-captain, out for the rest of the calendar year with a knee injury, centre Sam Johnson has taken over on-field leadership of the team for this match.
“He is one of the most vocal players on the field,” explained Wilson. “If you listen on the ref-mic, you hear a lot of that Australian-Scottish accent of his. So, he has those communication skills which makes him a good leader from a motivational and organisational point of view, but he’s also got good leaders around him.
“This year, Sam has been excellent in our environment, and he’s been excellent for Scotland. He’s been in our leadership group for a while, so no worries there at all – I’m confident that he will do a good job with good leaders around him.”
Oli Kebble starts at tight-head prop as his conversion from loose-head continues. “There’s a Scotland angle from the autumn, they’ve invested in giving Oli time on the tight-head and he’s a huge man – 140kgs at the moment,” said Wilson. “He’s a very powerful man which does suit the tight-head, and the fact that he can play both sides is a massive advantage. He’s still learning on the tight-head, but this is good for us, for Oli and for Scotland.”
Rory Darge is fit again after an ankle injury wrecked his chances of making an international debut this Autumn, Kiran McDonald also returns from the kidney injury he suffered during pre-season to take a replacement slot, and loose-head Nathan McBeth is set to make a debut off the bench after joining the club from South African franchise the Lions just before the international break.
Glasgow’s last trip to Stadio Monigo was a disaster, ending in a humiliating 46-19 defeat last April, although Wilson points out that the experience ultimately had a positive impact on the squad. Now he has challenged his players to prove that the lessons learned during that harrowing 80 minutes seven months ago have stuck.
“As I said at the time, it was a perfect storm, and that’s not making excuses because we take responsibility,” he recalled. “The positive was that it was the catalyst for us to sit down and say: ‘We understand that it has been a very difficult season for everyone involved, with our internationals being away and then coming back and expected to play in big games very quickly, but we have to be better than this’.
“And I thought the leadership group after that game were immense. They, along with the coaches, debriefed the whole thing, in terms of how we all turned up mentally – and I felt we bounced back really well.
“It was a telling moment because we didn’t lose a game from then on, including beating Leinster in the last game of the season.
“Up until that point the season had been painful, and that day was the most painful I’ve experienced with Glasgow – and that’s still in our mind and we want to put it right with a much better performance this weekend.”
That match was also a pivotal moment for Benetton, who had previously managed just one victory all season but kicked-on from there to lift the Rainbow Cup.
While Marco Bortolami’s side initially carried that momentum into this current campaign, beating both the Stormers and Edinburgh at home in the opening rounds of the United Rugby Championship, they have since lost three on the bounce (heavily in Ulster then narrowly at home to the Ospreys and away to the Scarlets). So, their form might not be razor sharp, but Wilson is adamant that the threat his team face is just as great as it was last time round.
“We found out in that game that if you don’t go there with the right mindset and the right approach then it is a very, very tough place,” he reasoned. “If we do get a win, then that’s massive in terms of our URC pool [Scottish/Italian Shield] – and they’ve still got to come to us which would then be to our advantage.
“But the first hurdle is the only one we are focussed on. I think it would be a massive win for us – probably the biggest win so far if we can get it done.”
Glasgow Warriors (v Benetton at the Stadio Monigo, Saturday 1pm British time): C Forbes; K Steyn, S Tuipulotu, S Johnson©, R McLean; R Thompson, G Horne; J Bhatti, G Turner, O Kebble, R Harley, R Gray, M Fagerson, R Darge, J Dempsey. Replacements: J Matthews, N McBeth, E Pieretto, K McDonald, T Gordon, J Dobie, D Weir, O Smith
Unavailable for selection: Ewan Ashman, Simon Berghan, Fraser Brown, Scott Cummings, Peter Horne, Tom Lambert, Ewan McQuillin, Ryan Wilson.
Benetton: R Smith; R Tavuyara, T Menoncello, L Morisi, E Padovani; L Marin, D Duvenage ©; T Halafihi, M Lamaro, G Pettinelli, F Ruzza, C Wegner, T Pasquali, G Lucchesi, F Zani. Replacements: C Els, T Baravalle, I Nemer , N Cannone, M Zuliani, A Garbisi, J Riera, L Sperandio.