AT least Glasgow Warriors head coach Dave Rennie can’t be accused of throwing in the towel with his team selection for this weekend’s final Champions Cup pool match against Exeter Chiefs [kick-off: 1pm Saturday].
Three British and Irish Lions tourists in Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour and Finn Russell have been added to the starting back-line, as have fellow Scotland internationalist Alex Dunbar and Italian cap Leonardo Sarto, while Jonny Gray will bring some much needed ballast to the pack.
If there was a whiff a fatalism about the team’s performance in their 55-19 loss to Leinster last weekend, the addition of this sextet should ensure that the side is at least able to put on a show. With the Six Nations looming over the horizon, all of these players have a point to prove with regard to either fitness, form or both.
Hogg, Seymour, Dunbar and Sarto are all returning from injury, while Russell and Gray were rested last week as part of the SRU protocol which bars international squad members from playing more than five weeks on the trot.
On the deficit side, scrum-half Ali Price drops to the bench, but he has a more than capable replacement in George Horne – who was the club’s player of the month in November and is perhaps the most exciting prospect in the whole Warriors squad at the moment.
“Last week was hugely disappointing mainly for the way we defended. It was around little combinations, decision-making and so on and we got exposed by a bloody good side. It is rugby at this level, if you are a couple of cogs off where you need to be at and the other side is hot then you can get a hiding,” lamented Rennie.
“A lot of the guys that we have brought back in have an international series that they are about to go into so they are all very enthusiastic and keen to get back on the pitch and get a bit of form heading into that.”
“Maybe there is a danger of putting all of those guys on the field who haven’t played much lately, but like I said we are keen to get them game time with the experience they bring.
“It’ll be a big test up front, obviously Jonny comes back and outside of that it is the same pack who get another chance.”
The inclusion of Hogg – although not unexpected – will be particularly pleasing for national team head coach Gregor Townsend. The full-back had been in the frame to make his return last week after recovering from a hip flexor problem picked up in November, but was then ruled out due to an unrelated foot injury.
This game represents his last chance to get some competitive minutes under his belt before Scotland take on Wales in two weeks’ time.
“It is what it is, that is the nature of footy and guys get injured and you have to play without them. I guess what we are hoping is that come the end of the year we will have a lot of choices and a fit side,” said Rennie.
“The fact that Hoggy has been out has meant that Ruaridh Jackson has played a hell of a lot of footy for us and I can’t speak highly enough of the influence he has had, so from that point of view having injuries has helped us find out more about others.”
Former Glasgow Warriors prop Moray Low is on the bench for the visitors.
Glasgow Warriors (v Exeter Chiefs at the Scotstoun, Saturday, 1pm): S Hogg; T Seymour, H Jones, A Dunbar, L Sarto; F Russell, G Horne; J Bhatti, G Turner, S Halanukonuka, R Harley, J Gray, M Fagerson, M Smith, A Ashe. Substitutes: G Stewart, A Allan, D Rae, G Peterson, C Fusaro, A Price, P Horne, L Jones.
Exeter Chiefs: P Dollman; L Turner, H Slade, I Whitten, O Woodburn; G Steenson, N White; B Moon, L Cowan-Dickie, H Williams, M Lees, J Hill, D Ewers, D Armond, S Simmonds. Substitutes: E Taione, M Low, T Francis, T Salmon, M Kvesic, W Chudley, J Simmonds, T Hendrickson.