DAVE RENNIE thinks Huw Jones could be a good fit as replacement to Stuart Hogg in the Glasgow Warriors full-back slot.
The club has not recruited a recognised No 15 since news broke last November of Hogg’s move to Exeter Chiefs this summer, with Rennie insisting that he has a number of players capable of taking on the role already at his disposal.
Jones has played almost all of his rugby at centre during the three and a bit years since first becoming involved in the Scotland set-up, but has struggled during the last 18-months to hit top form for either club or country – resulting in his exclusion from Gregor Townsend’s World Cup squad when it was announced last Tuesday.
With Warriors spoiled for choice in the centre – where Pete Horne, Sam Johnson, Nick Grigg, Stafford McDowall, Kyle Steyn and Paddy Kelly are all vying for selection – Rennie and Jones have discussed whether a switch to full-back may offer more game time and help invigorate the 25-year-old’s flagging career.
“We’ve got some options [at full-back],” said Rennie. “We started Glenn Bryce last week [in the team’s pre-season friendly against Ulster in Belfast] and he played really well and has impressed us during the summer. He’s not too dissimilar to Hoggy – a really good skill-set and quick. He’s gone great, he’s in the running and you’ll see him in the mix again this weekend.
“Ruaridh Jackson has come back into the reckoning, he has had a little bit of a groin injury but is an option there. We have used Tommy Seymour there in the past and with the depth we’ve got out wide, that is not a bad option.
“And, to be honest, we’ve also talked about playing Huw Jones there because it would really suit our style of game and we’ve got a lot of really good midfielders. Huw is interested in that as well.”
Rennie recognises that Jones’ only real chance of re-establishing himself as a frontline Scotland player is as a centre, so it is unlikely that he will try to reinvent the player as an out-and-out full-back, but believes that mixing things up in the short term could be a good thing for everyone involved.
“In the end, he wants to cement the centre position. He is disappointed to be back [with Glasgow Warriors] prior to the World Cup, but his attitude has been great,” said the coach. “He will start this week [at centre] and can push for a starting spot against the Cheetahs.
“With Matt Fagerson [who was also axed from the World Cup squad] and Huw, they were both keen to get back in and get their heads around things. That is credit to them. We were not going to use them last week, but they will both get some game time this week.
“You have to put an arm round them. They are disappointed, but our job is to help them bounce back quickly. There could be injuries pre or during the World Cup and we want those guys playing really well so that if Gregor is looking for a replacement, he is looking at those boys. We are going to help them be the best option if somebody gets broken.”
Building into the new season
Warriors were well-beaten at the weekend. They led 17-19 at the break but fell away in the second-half when Rennie mixed up his team to give a number of fringe and younger players a hit-out.
“It was a good lesson for us,” said the coach. “I thought Ulster were excellent. Not too many teams would have highlighted our flaws the way they did.
“We had a few defections during the week and ended up with a couple more young boys in the second half team. They will learn lots from that. They are good men, they have been working hard and it was good to give them an idea of the level and intensity.
“We were keen to give everyone a crack because they have all been working so hard for so long, and we got exposed more around systems, connections and so on. It has been good, a chance to reflect on that, get better and get the opportunity to play the same team again this week.”
Rennie is expecting to have a much stronger group of players at his disposal for that rematch at Scotstoun on Saturday afternoon.
“We have 11 guys who didn’t strip last week coming in. Some of them are boys who have been away with international footie, and some are longer-term injured who weren’t quite ready for last week, so you mix those guys in with last week’s squad and we will have a bit more experience on the field and you would expect to see a better performance,” he said.
Warriors will then have the following weekend off before the PRO14 season kicks off with a trip to South Africa to play the Cheetahs on Friday 27th September.
“They’re Currie Cup champions and they’ll be really well oiled,” concluded Rennie. “They’ve played a lot of footie together and now have a couple of weeks to freshen up and then rip into us. It is a great test. We have played there twice and won twice, so we know what is required. There is a lot of talk about altitude and so on. They play a fast brand of footie and often the key to playing the Cheetahs is to look after ball and force them to make a lot of tackles.”