DANNY WILSON had been eager to give Rufus McLean a run in the Glasgow Warriors team for some time but was prevented from doing so by injury and Covid. Ross Thompson’s elevation to the starting XV is more down to the unavailability and form of others in his position. In both cases, it is highly unlikely that the head coach would have chosen an 1872 Cup clash against arch-rivals Edinburgh as the occasion of their first start for the club, but circumstance has pushed him to this point and now that we are here he has challenged his young guns to make an impact.
McLean will be making his first appearance at this level on the left wing, while Thompson gave an encouraging 10 minutes when he made his debut as a late replacement off the bench during last Saturday’s 1872 Cup first-leg defeat at Murrayfield.
That was a dour affair, and Wilson is certain that if his team are to turn things around in this rematch it will be through shaking off the shackles which pedestrianised their attack that day – and he believes that McLean and Thompson can be key contributors to that solution.
“This is their opportunity to put their stamp on a game,” said Wilson. “If you look at both those players, they are probably more known for their attacking ability, so hopefully they will add to that side of things.
“It is well documented that neither team’s attack really functioned last week. I think we played a little bit more rugby but got a bit too lateral on at times. Certainly, conditions probably favoured defence more than attack. Hopefully on a faster track this week we will see a bit more attack.
Thompson started the season fourth in the stand-off pecking order, but Adam Hastings has been out since the end of October with a shoulder injury, Pete Horne is still recovering from a concussion picked up playing against Exeter Chiefs in mid-December, and Brandon Thomson has been taken out of the firing line after a couple of major bloopers.
“We’ve obviously graded Ross in with a little bit of time off the bench last week and a lot more exposure to training in terms of being in the main team rather than in the opposition, so he goes from that to getting this opportunity to start,” said Wilson. “He is obviously an academy boy who has played Scotland Under-20s [for two seasons], so I am learning about him as I go as well, but I think he deserves an opportunity.”
“Rufus would have had an opportunity earlier than this had he not been involved in a couple of Covid situations which have ruled him out for a long period of time,” he added. “He has been training well – looking sharp – and has bags of gas, so hopefully he gets to show that and he’s got some experience around him in the back three with Lee Jones and Huw Jones, plus Nick Grigg inside him.
A balanced approach
Wilson added that this team selection demonstrates that there is a commitment to giving young Scottish talent a chance to shine at the right time, but said he will not be bounced into throwing too many in at the deep-end too soon as a knee-jerk response to having a stretched squad and a significantly tightened budget.
“Obviously, we have to cut our cloth accordingly – as I’ve said many times – so we’ve got to make sure we recruit and strengthen, and also try to grow it from within,” he explained.
“In terms of younger players in Scotland, we need to improve our quality as well, and not just say because they are Scottish that they automatically are there. They’ve got to prove it because that’s the only way we get competition and get players to be better and better.
“We’re all trying to win games but at the same time the goalposts have moved a little bit so we’re reacting to that and it does gives us a chance to play a few younger guys in a derby,” he added.
“With only two pro teams in Scotland and no Super6 underneath at the moment, there is not that much opportunity to get these boys out there. Hardly any of them have played any rugby, so when’s the best time to do it?
“Well, you know what? Perhaps now is the best time to do it – bit by bit – right time and right place. You can’t throw seven of them out there at the same time because that’s not fair to them, but trying to do it with the right combinations around them at the right time is what we are all trying to do.”
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McLean and Thompson are two of four changes in total to last weekend’s starting XV. Fit again Oli Kebble will seek to bolster Glasgow’s creaking scrum when he replaces Aki Seiuli at loose-head prop, while Robbie Fergusson (co-opted from the Scotland 7s programme) comes in at inside centre for Sam Johnson, who was ruled out this morning [Thursday] due to a Covid exposure.
Johnson has not tested positive and the contact was with someone outside the Warriors camp so Wilson was cautiously optimistic that there won’t be another outbreak in the squad. “There’s always a danger though because Sam trained with us before he was informed,” the coach acknowledged.
“It’s a massive blow but then Robbie gets a chance in a derby having played really well for us for four games earlier in the season,” he added. “Stafford McDowall is pretty much back fit now, so he’ll get opportunities in the coming games, too.”
Meanwhile, Wilson had been hopeful that Horne might become available after he trained with the squad earlier this week but it looks like being a few more weeks yet.
“It is not good news the longer these head injuries last, but he is definitely way better this week and will be allowed to run water for us during the game which he wasn’t allowed to do last weekend – so it shows how long it has been just to get him back to do that,” said Wilson.
“Hopefully he’s making good progress and in the next couple of weeks we will get him back involved.”
Glasgow Warriors (v Edinburgh at Scotstoun, Friday 7.35pm): H Jones; L Jones, N Grigg, R Fergusson, R McLean; R Thompson, A Price; O Kebble, G Turner, Z Fagerson, R Gray, S Cummings, R Wilson (captain), T Gordon, M Fagerson. Substitutes: J Matthews, A Seiuli, E Pieretto, L Bean, T Ioane, J Dobie, B Thomson, G Bryce.