DAVE RENNIE says that we should not read too much into Jamie Bhatti being released by Scotland to play for Glasgow Warriors against Leinster in this evening’s PRO14 clash at Scotstoun.
The 24-year-old is one of only two loose-head props in the national training squad for the upcoming Autumn Test series, along with Edinburgh’s Darryl Marfo, and was widely expected to start against Samoa next weekend in the number one jersey – but that looked less clear-cut yesterday when it was revealed that he had not been wrapped in cotton wool this weekend in anticipation of his international debut in eight days’ time.
While Scotland frontliners Zander Fagerson, Jonny Gray, Stuart Hogg, Lee Jones, Huw Jones, Ali Price, Finn Russell, Tommy Seymour and Ryan Wilson have all been rested this week, Bhatti along with Ruaridh Jackson, Nick Grigg, Peter Horne, George Turner, Tim Swinson, Scott Cummings and Rob Harley have all been named in the Warriors starting team. While Henry Pyrgos and Alex Dunbar are on the bench.
Having started seven and come off the bench in one out of Warriors’ nine competitive games so far this season since signing his first full-time pro contract during the summer, Bhatti is not short of match practice. But he was left out of the Warriors squad for the first time against the Southern Kings last weekend, and Rennie reckons that too long out of the saddle can be just as problematic as being over-played.
“Jamie has played a lot of footie for us over the previous eight weeks so it was a good chance to freshen him up last week. Playing a bit more footie this week is a good chance for everyone,” said the coach.
“Gregor’s been great. There have been no demands around game time and that sort of thing. Obviously we’re missing a few because nine have stayed with Scotland, but he’s well aware that our boys have got a job to do. There’s a handful who he wants to get some game time, so hopefully everyone will come through unscathed.”
“We’ve been communicated with very well. Gregor gave me a bit of insight even prior to last week’s game regarding what was likely to happen, barring injuries. Things were confirmed on Monday, so we’ve been well informed, which is the great thing about working with Gregor. We’re happy to rest guys when they’re required to be rested, and Gregor says he’s happy for guys to play a bit of footy even with the test window around the corner.”
Rennie has named brothers Peter and George Horne in the starting team together fir the first time, playing at stand-off and scrum-half respectively. He reckons that the combination of experience and youthful exuberance could be key to the team’s prospects of gaining some revenge against Leinster after losing to the same opposition at the same venue in the European Champions Cup a fortnight ago.
“I really rate Peter, he’s an outstanding player who is as good at ten as he is at 12. He’s got a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge – he’s one of our leaders so he ticks a lot of boxes. I’m very keen to get Peter on the field somewhere and our midfielders [centres] have been going pretty well, we have a fair bit of cover round there, so it makes sense [to play him at 10],” said Rennie.
“He’s pretty demanding as a leader but he’s a good man and he understands when to put an arm around a guy and so on, so I just think his authority will be really important in a game like this.
“I’m sure George will do what he’s told by his brother at ten. They’ll be a good combination. They train a lot together anyway. We thought George was excellent last week so we just wanted to back that up with a reward of starting this week.”
“We obviously have Henry on the bench, who has an enormous amount of experience, but we are very happy with this combination, knowing that we’ve got a good bench, with three international boys covering the back-line.”
New Zealander Calum Gibbins has been named as captain on the basis that he was around during training this week, while Rob Harley – who skippered the side last week – has been away in the Scotland camp.
“I’m sure he’ll do an excellent job. He’s captained Manawatu for a number of years and has a lot of experience, and he’s built his credibility and earned respect amongst the boys since arriving here.”
Leinster have also gone for a combination of youth and experience for this match. Conor O’Brien being is to make his debut at inside centre and fellow academy prospect Josh Murphy is in line for a first appearance for the province off the bench; while four players in Adam Byrne, Dave Kearney, Andrew Porter and Dan Leavy have all been released by Ireland to play in this match.
There is, however, no Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw, Joey Carbery, Devin Toner, Sean O’Brien or Tadhg Furlong. In total, 14 players from the national set-up have been given the weekend off.
“Obviously they’re missing a few but what we know about Leinster is that they have excellent depth,” said Rennie. “Even when they’ve got frontline guys out, the replacements are invariably international players, so we’ll expect a very similar performance from them – they’re really nuggety up front, so we’ll need to really front up from a set-piece point of view to get our game going.
“They were impressive against us. There were a couple of areas in that game where they highlighted that we need to get better. Certainly we didn’t defend as well as we have been defending, and that hurt us. We were undisciplined when they put us in the corner. They were very patient, they just built pressure and got under us. We’ve learned a bit from that and will try and put that on the park this weekend.”
Glasgow Warriors (v Leinster at Scotstoun, Friday 3rd November, 7.35pm): R Jackson; L Masaga, N Grigg, S Johnson, N Matawalu; P Horne, G Horne; J Bhatti, G Turner, D Rae, T Swinson, S Cummings, R Harley, C Gibbins, M Fagerson. Substitutes: P MacArthur, A Allan, A Nicol, L Wynne, M Smith, H Pyrgos, A Dunbar, L Sarto.
Leinster: J Larmour; A Byrne, R O’Loughlin, C O’Brien, D Kearney; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; E Byrne, S Cronin, M Bent, R Molony©, M Kearney, S Fardy, J Muphy, M Deegan. Subs: R Strauss, P Dooley, A Porter, J Murphy, D Leavy, N McCarthy, C Marsh, H Keenan.