ONLY four Glasgow players who started last week’s defeat by Edinburgh will begin tomorrow’s match against Benetton in Treviso – and only three of them are in the same position. Rob Harley is the one to be retained in the starting line-up but be switched, from blindside to lock, while full-back Ruaridh Jackson, inside centre Sam Johnson and No 8 Ryan Wilson are the trio who hold on to their jerseys.
Given the need to play full-strength teams in last month’s two 1872 Cup games and in the pair of Champions Cup matches to be played over the next two weekends, head coach Dave Rennie was always likely to be forced into major surgery for this PRO14 match in Italy. Even so, the scale of the changes appears likely to be another test of the strength in depth of a Warriors squad which can afford very few more slip-ups in their bid to qualify for the play-offs.
After that loss at Murrayfield in their last game of 2019, Glasgow now have just four wins from nine league matches in Conference A – the same record as Benetton have in Conference B. Both teams are just two points outside of the play-off places, although the Italians are currently sixth in their conference, while Glasgow are fourth. The Cheetahs, just ahead of the Warriors at present, have two games in hand, and if they win both that two-point gap will go up into double figures.
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With Kyle Steyn, Nick Grigg and Niko Matawalu back in the team, the three-quarters selection is very close to the one that has been playing much of the season so far, and is arguably the strongest part of Rennie’s selection. Pete Horne partners brother George at half-back in what is usually a solid and creative pairing, but in the pack, by contrast, there are some unfamiliar combinations, with Bruce Flockhart joining Tom Gordon and Wilson in the back row.
“We’ve got a number of international boys who have played a lot for us over the last few weeks, so we need to rest a few of those guys ahead of Europe,” Rennie said. “It’s a great opportunity for a few guys to make a statement.
“Tom [Gordon] is a really good athlete and explosive with ball in hand, and he’s been good for us on both sides of the ball. We’re excited to see how he goes. Bruce has had a few niggles, but he’s been very good the times he’s got onto the pitch this year and we’re looking forward to seeing him go tomorrow.
“We’ve played some good rugby over the past few weeks and defended well, but it’s all about consistency for us. That’s going to be key – if we can hang on to the ball we can put Benetton under pressure.”
On the bench, player/coach Petrus du Plessis is named for what would be a rare outing of the season if he comes on to replace starting tighthead Adam Nicol. Huw Jones, who had hoped to start this match after showing impressive form in his recent outings, has to make do with the No 22 jersey.
Eight players are named as unavailable due to injury: Siua Halanukonuka (calf), Sean Kennedy (shoulder), Kiran McDonald (hip), Robbie Nairn (knee), D’Arcy Rae (hand), Brandon Thomson (calf), Tommy Seymour (head) and DTH van der Merwe (knee and wrist).
Leone Nakarawa has now joined up with his new team-mates following his re-signing yesterday, but this game was always going to come too soon for the Fijian forward.
Glasgow Warriors (v Benetton at the Stadio Monigo, Saturday 1pm British time): R Jackson; K Steyn, N Grigg, S Johnson, N Matawalu; P Horne, G Horne; A Seiuli, G Turner, A Nicol, R Harley, T Swinson, B Flockhart, T Gordon, R Wilson. Substitutes: G Stewart, O Kebble, P du Plessis, A Davidson, C Fusaro, N Frisby, H Jones, G Bryce.
Benetton: J Hayward; L Sarto, R Tavuyara, L Morisi, M Ioane; T Allan, Dewaldt Duvenage; N Quaglio, H Faiva, M Riccioni, I Herbst, F Ruzza, S Negri, G Pettinelli, A Steyn. Substitutes: E Makelara, C Traore, T Pasquali, N Cannone, E Snyman, M Lazzaroni, T Tebaldi, A Rizzi.