AFTER an inspired victory in their opening match of the season, Glasgow Warriors are set to ring the changes for their first home game of the campaign, with Finn Russell in the running to start against the Ospreys on Saturday.
When Gregor Townsend was head coach, the alterations to the starting line-up were often radical and invariably unpredictable. There may not be quite as much of a shake-up from week to week this season, according to assistant coach Jonathan Humphreys, but there will still be a strong emphasis on ensuring that the so-called fringe members of the squad are capable of becoming central figures by the time the international window deprives the team of its Scotland regulars.
The absence of big names such as Russell, Tommy Seymour, Jonny Gray, Fraser Brown and Stuart Hogg from the 18-12 win over Connacht in Galway meant that some of the newcomers to the team had the earliest possible start to competitive action, with debuts for Lelia Masaga, Adam Hastings, George Turner and Oli Kebble. Hastings, an early substitute after Sam Johnson took a head knock, then sustained an injury which means he will be unavailable for the Ospreys game. Johnson has yet to be passed fit to play following his head knock, but, while it is never good to see the injuries mount up, Humphreys is confident that the Warriors squad has the depth to deal with such losses.
“There’s a lot of competition in certain places,” he said. “It’s about giving people opportunities, giving certain people time on the field, because before we know it a large part of this group are gone to play for Scotland. It’s a big thing for us that the squad is a lot stronger and we’re a lot more competitive when everybody is away.
“I think we’ll see some changes over the next three or four games. I think it’s important that we do that. You can’t win a competition with just a small group of players – it’s based on 40 odd guys. There may not be as many changes as [Warriors supporters] are used to, but there will certainly be changes along the line.
“Tommy Seymour is still a couple of weeks [away from a return], but Finn will be available. Sam is undergoing his HIA protocol. Adam is going to be out for a couple of weeks with a nasty gash in his leg – he had a fair few stitches. The big thing for him is that it doesn’t get it infected. It should be three weeks or so.”
Far more experienced sides than the one the Warriors put out have buckled under the pressure in Galway, and that hard-fought win was particularly impressive given the terrible conditions, in which driving rain and a fiercely gusting wind made enterprising rugby pretty difficult. While there were obvious errors that might have been punished on another night, Humphreys was enthused above all by the mental strength shown by the team as they first fought back from a 9-3 half-time deficit, and then defended magnificently to preserve their lead in the game’s closing stages.
“The most pleasing thing was the character of the group in unbelievably tough conditions and how we fought hard for each other to get the win,” the assistant coach added. “There are certain parts of our game we need to improve on, but as a whole it’s very important for all of us we got off to a good start.
“The emphasis is on being a bit more brutal [in defence] than we have in the past. The conditions allowed us to be narrow in our D and have lots of line speed.”
The Ospreys also won their opening PRO14 game, albeit unconvincingly. After taking an early lead against Zebre at the Liberty Stadium, the Welsh side went into the last 10 minutes only two points up before a second try of the match from teenage winger Keelan Giles secured a 22-13 win.
But Humphreys, who was the Ospreys’ forwards coach for seven years from 2006, still expects them to provide tough opposition for Glasgow on Saturday, especially now that stand-off James Hook is back in the squad after three years each at Perpignan and Gloucester. “For a large part of last year they were a strong attacking team, and they can put a lot of points on you if you are not on the money. They’re a good team; they’re well coached.
“[Hook is a ] very talented player, and it was quite sad when he left – he’d been playing well. For the region and for him it’s good to see him back. Everybody knows about him and what he can do.”