PERHAPS the most impressive aspect of Glasgow Warriors’ season to date is that they have run up four wins in a row in the PRO14 without some of their biggest players. If they make it five out of five against Benetton tonight at Scotstoun it will be all the more impressive given the number of changes Dave Rennie has made to the squad.
The head coach’s wider squad was enhanced yesterday by the signing of Ryan Grant and Bobby Beattie, while Matt Fagerson signed his first professional contract. Only the latter is involved in tonight’s game, which sees just a handful of players turn out in the same jersey they had for last week’s win over Munster, while the Warriors’ most influential performers seven days ago, Finn Russell and Callum Gibbins, are among the significant absentees this evening. With Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray among those still to return from injury, Glasgow’s strength in depth has been put to a pretty severe test already, one it has passed with flying colours.
A home game against the Italians might usually be regarded as a good chance to make experimental selections, but Rennie does not see his choice of squad as in any way a gamble. Indeed, given the improvements made by Benetton this season – they have won two out of their fur games to date – the head coach implied that this would be the wrong time to make such a gamble.
“I don’t look at it as a risk,” he said. “It’s around creating depth, providing opportunity, and creating competition within the squad. We know we’re going to be without a lot of international players in autumn and in the Six Nations. It’s just a great opportunity for us to see some of these players under pressure.
“I’ve got confidence in the full squad. If you’re planning on being successful and winning things, you won’t do it with 23 guys. I’m really happy with the side that’s taking the field tomorrow. Callum Gibbins is out injured, but we’ve got the return of people like Rob Harley, Tommy Seymour and Fraser Brown, so there’s a lot of experience.”
Gibbins has a minor rib injury, which sees Chris Fusaro come into a back row that has Rob Harley at blindside and Ryan Wilson at No 8. Russell is being rested in accordance with Scotland’s protocol for international players, allowing Pete Horne to come in at fly-half. The 19-year-old back-row forward Fagerson, younger brother of tighthead prop Zander, is on the bench.
Russell still appears highly likely to move to France when his current Glasgow contract is up, and this week was linked with a move to Racing 92 among others. However, Rennie believes that, while his own team may not be able to match the salary offers from the French, there are compelling reasons for Scottish internationals to stay in their own country.
“We’re going to work really hard to keep him here,” the coach added. “I know he loves it here. We won’t be able to throw the sort of money that France are going to throw at him, so we’re trying to create an environment here that people want to stay here and people want to come to.”
Grant, the former Scotland and Lions international who left the Warriors for England last season, has agreed a short-term deal and will provide cover at loosehead prop while Oli Kebble is out injured. Beattie, who can play at centre or on the wing, has signed until the end of the season on a partnership deal with Glasgow Hawks.
Grant is actually making his way back from injury at present, but he trained well this week according to Rennie, who expects him back in action soon. “We were very fortunate to have someone of Ryan’s experience and quality, with over 100 games for the Warriors, and who is very passionate about the club,” the coach added. “He has had a few injury issues and we want to make sure he can fulfil his side of the bargain and we can get some game time from him.
“We’re not going to rush him, but he has had a very good week of training. It will be based on how he trains and how the other guys play. What we have seen from him has been really good – I couldn’t be happier with what he has contributed so far.”
Glasgow Warriors (v Benetton at Scotstoun, Friday 29 September, 7.35pm): R Jackson; T Seymour, N Grigg, S Johnson, L Jones; P Horne, H Pyrgos; A Allan, P MacArthur, D Rae, B Alainu’uese, S Cummings, R Harley, C Fusaro, R Wilson. Substitutes: F Brown, J Bhatti, A Nicol, T Swinson, M Fagerson, A Price, B Thomson, N Matawalu.
Benetton: J Hayward; A Esposito, T Benvenuti, A Sgarbi, L Sperandio; M Banks, T Tebaldi; C Traore, L Bigi, S Ferrari, M Fuser, D Budd, S Negri, A Steyn, M Barbini. Substitutes: F Zani, A de Marchi, T Pasquali, F Ruzza, M Lazzaroni, R Barbieri, G Bronzini, I McKinley.