GLASGOW coach Danny Wilson has revealed it came as “a bit of a shock” to him to learn that no Warriors players would be released back from Scotland duty during the Nations Cup. A total of 18 players are unavailable to Wilson for tomorrow night’s PRO14 game against Ulster in Belfast – 12 on Scotland duty and six because of injury.
One factor from the national team’s point of view is that almost all the Warriors’ and Edinburgh’s games this month are on Mondays, with tomorrow’s fixtures coming just five days before Scotland’s first Nations Cup match against Italy. Between that and the difficulties caused by Covid protocols, Gregor Townsend decided he could not afford to release players back to either team. Usual practice during international windows is for several of those not needed by Scotland on any given weekend to be freed to play for their clubs instead.
“It was a little bit of a shock to get the news that 35 players would be held back,” Wilson said earlier today (Sunday), referring to the total size of the Scotland squad. “You only take 31 to a World Cup, so it’s a big number. Scotland holding 35 players with zero release is a different challenge, let’s say.
“Normally if you’ve got 12 players in the squad and say six or seven are playing, you get those four or five back. Even if they come back really late, like team-run day, you get those quality players back. We’re not going to be in that circumstance this year. As it stands at the moment, we were told that the 35 – it was 36 at one point – will be held for the whole campaign.”
Asked if he had been able to speak to Townsend about the issue, Wilson continued:
“No, not really, if I’m honest. It was a decision that was announced to us, so we’ve just got to get on with it and that’s what we’ll do.
“We might have to dip into Super6 players, we might have to dip into local players – which I don’t know anything about at the moment because they’re not playing any rugby. There will be a positive: we will unearth some players. We will look back at this period long, long term and say we got some good players through for the future for Glasgow and Scotland. In the short term we get on with it.”
Wilson has already responded to the challenge by signing Lewis Bean on a short-term loan from Northampton, and the lock has been named as one of six replacement forwards for what the coach expects to be a bruising up-front battle in Belfast. Stirling County’s Super6 scrum-half Caleb Korteweg has now been registered but is not in this matchday 23, and the Warriors also hope to bring in a stand-off given last week’s news that Adam Hastings will be out for several months recovering from shoulder surgery.
Glasgow have won only one of their four league games to date, and there is little doubt that they face a tough few weeks, particularly compared to the Irish and Welsh teams, who are less badly affected by call-ups and call-offs. But Wilson still has serious ambitions of doing well this season, knowing that the key is to get his young, untried players up to speed as quickly as possible.
“I think at the moment it’s just a case of us dealing with the situation we’re in. Whatever players Ireland and Wales hold in their camps, they’ve got four teams to spread that amongst. I know England and France are releasing players back, and France are only allowed to keep players for certain periods.
“We’re just in a different situation, a different challenge. On top of that we already have the challenge of losing the Scottish players anyway, but thinking we’re going to get release. Then when you’ve got Covid and all the things that have happened recently, it’s just a different outlook to the one we all thought back at the start.
“But we get on with it. The exciting part is we’ll unearth players, we’ll develop players, and that’s got to be our key mindset in this period.
“We’re trying to win every game we go into, but we also need to work very hard to improve these players, so that in four or five weeks’ time, if we’ve unearthed one or two talented players that we didn’t know enough about, or we’ve developed them with game time, long long term that will hold us in good stead.
“But what I do know is that this group of players are excited, they’re motivated, and they’re going to play a good Ulster team and they’ll give 110 per cent towards that as the boys did last week against Leinster. We’ll need to improve quickly, and we’ll need to develop players quickly.
“I think at the moment our aim has got to be to make the play-offs. In the challenging circumstances that we’re in, that will remain our focus.”