Glasgow v Dragons: tinkerman Franco Smith gets creative with squad selection

International duty and injury forces head coach to name three hookers and three scrum-halves in squad for Dragons game

Jamie Bhatti, who will make his 100th appearance for Glasgow Warriors against Dragons tomorrow night, with head coach Franco Smith. Image: © Craig Watson -
Jamie Bhatti, who will make his 100th appearance for Glasgow Warriors against Dragons tomorrow night, with head coach Franco Smith. Image: © Craig Watson -

HAD any other head coach named a matchday 23 featuring three scrum-halves and three hookers then it would have resulted in something of a puzzled reaction. This is nothing new from Franco Smith, however.

The South African has made adaptability and versatility two of the cornerstones of his Glasgow Warriors’ philosophy, alongside eradicating the notion that there is a core first-team group supplemented by a batch of reserves only to be called upon in times of emergency.

In doing so, Smith has created a culture where, in theory, any player can play anywhere at any time, a mindset that comes into its own during periods like these when Glasgow have 11 players on international duty and a further 10 sidelined with injury.

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Scotland have made Smith’s life slightly easier by releasing a quartet of players for the Saturday night United Rugby Championship game with Dragons – Stafford McDowall, Ross Thompson, Johnny Matthews and Jamie Bhatti, with the latter making his 100th appearance for Warriors – but elsewhere in the selection there has been a need for invention.

Thus, scrum-half Jamie Dobie starts on the wing on his return from injury, with Ben Afshar taking the No. 9 jersey and Sean Kennedy backing him up on the bench, while Matthews is named as hooker, backed up by Gus Fraser and Gregor Hiddleston – who has also played a fair big of Super Series rugby at openside flanker – in the week that both extended their deals with the club.

Tom Jordan reverts to the inside centre role where he made his name at Ayrshire Bulls to allow Thompson to start at fly-half, while Facundo Cordero makes his debut on the right wing, with 19-year-old second-rower Ruaraidh Hart likely to do the same from the bench.

“I’m excited to be back out there,” said Smith ahead of his side’s first URC action since the Murrayfield derby with Edinburgh at the end of December. “It was a decent break and a good time to reset physically and mentally. From a playing perspective we’re excited to see how guys can go out there and contribute to the season as much as they can and we’re excited to be playing again

“We always try to give the players the best opportunity to be in the Scotland team but I anticipated more or less that we would get players back. I’m excited to give them a platform to get themselves into the team for the rest of the Six Nations games.”



Bhatti could perhaps feel most aggrieved to have fallen behind previous England cap Alec Hepburn in the Scotland loose-head pecking order but Smith had nothing but praise for the prop.

“I’m not going to comment on selection from their side but I do feel he has been a stalwart for Glasgow and Scotland for a long time now and I’m really glad for him that he’s going to reach this milestone tomorrow night,” he added.

“If he keeps working hard he can still offer a lot and become even better, and it will give him a better chance to become more involved with Scotland. I’m really proud of him and the way he’s worked and played for us in recent years.”

Dobie hasn’t suited up since sustaining an ankle injury in the game against Ospreys in November and Smith believes he will go well on the wing with Kyle Steyn and Kyle Rowe with Scotland and Ollie Smith and Sebastian Cancelliere both injured.

He added: “It’s unfortunately what it comes down to. [Jamie] has been playing well and I’m always excited with a scrum-half out on the wing.

“I’m sure in his way he’ll add a lot of value, even if it’s not his preferred position. I do think he can play really well in that position and it gives everyone another option to look at going forward. I’m happy to have him involved. We have three scrum halves and three hookers and we’re excited to have them all involved.”

Cordero has had to wait a long time for this moment after joining from Exeter Chiefs 11 months ago, while Hart is being tipped for a bright future.

Smith explained: “Facundo has been very unfortunate since he came. In his second training session with us he ripped his hamstring which didn’t recover until the end of the season.

“He played very well in pre-season then picked up an ankle injury which kept him out. With us leading up to the Six Nations there were other priorities in selection.

“But I’m really happy with him. He’s contributed a lot even though he hasn’t been playing. His attitude and the way he’s gone about helping us prepare for games has been second to none. He’s a very good person and we’re excited to have him finally represent the club.

“Ruaridh ‘Big’ Hart, as we call him, has done exceptionally well in pre-season. He’s trained well and his detail is excellent.

“He looks like a seasoned campaigner when it comes to the detail. It’s a good opportunity to step up into the big league and take this experience back to Scotland U20s next week.”


Glasgow Warriors (versus Dragons at Scotstoun Stadium in the URC on Saturday at 7.35pm UK time): J McKay; F Cordero, S McDowall ©, T Jordan, J Dobie; R Thompson, B Afshar; J Bhatti, J Matthews, L Sordoni, M Williamson, A Samuel, E Ferrie, T Gordon, H Venter. Substitutes:  A Fraser, N McBeth, O Kebble, R Hart, S Manjezi, G Hiddleston, S Kennedy, D Weir.

Unavailable for selection through injury: Fraser Brown (knee), Gregor Brown (knee), Sebastian Cancelliere (neck), Richie Gray (bicep), Jack Mann (ankle), Ally Miller (calf), JP du Preez (knee), Ollie Smith (knee), Sione Vailanu (knee), Murphy Walker (knee)

Away on international duty: Scott Cummings, Rory Darge, Jack Dempsey, Matt Fagerson, Zander Fagerson, George Horne, Huw Jones, Kyle Rowe, Sione Tuipulotu, George Turner.

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About Graeme Macpherson 39 Articles
Graeme Macpherson is a freelance sports writer who covers rugby for a number of outlets.

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