Glasgow Warriors v Ospreys: opportunity knocks for Thomas Gordon and Robbie Smith

Duo set to make debuts off the bench haviing impressed in training and whilst playing in the Tennent's Premiership this season

Thomas Gordon
Thomas Gordon played for Glasgow Warriors against Harlequins in pre-season, and is set to make his competitive debut off the bench tonight against Ospreys in the PRO14. image: ©Fotosport / David Gibson

THOMAS GORDON has been outstanding for Currie Chieftains in the Tennent’s Premiership this season. The New Zealand-born breakaway – who qualifies for Scotland through his grandparents – has arguably been the best player in the league over the course of the campaign.

Having graduated from the Scottish Rugby Academy set-up to a partnership contract with Glasgow Warriors at the start of the current season, the 21-year-old has managed to add extra layers of physicality, pace and accuracy to his game which has seen him surge beyond the high standards he had already set himself when gaining international recognition with Scotland Under-20s in 2017 and with the Scotland Club XV in 2018.

He played in the Warriors’ pre-season friendly against Harlequins in Perth back in August, but with a surfeit of good (and more experienced) back-rowers at head coach Dave Rennie’s disposal, there seemed a distinct danger that Gordon would not get a chance this season to test himself at pro level in a competitive match (or two).

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But things can change pretty quickly in sport, and with Callum Gibbins (ankle/knee), Chris Fusaro (neck), Matt Fagerson (shoulder) and Bruce Flockhart (ankle) all out injured at the moment, and Ryan Wilson being rested before the start of the Six Nations next weekend, an opportunity has arisen.

Gordon has been named on the bench for tonight’s Guinness PRO14 clash against the Ospreys, and Kenny Murray – standing in as head coach this week while Rennie is back in New Zealand at his son’s wedding – says that the management team are delighted about getting the chance to see what he can do at the next level.

“Anyone who follows the Premiership will have seen that he’s been one of the most consistent players in the competition, and certainly one of Currie Chieftains’ best players,” said Murray. “He’s trained well with us and it’s a wee bit unfortunate that he’s not had a chance so far because Matt Smith, Callum Gibbins and Chris Fusaro have been playing well.

“I’m really pleased that he’s got an opportunity to get on the bench and hopefully get a run because we’re really excited to see what he can do at this level. We know he can do it at club level so now we get to see if he can bring it onto the park against the Ospreys.

Ball carrying strength

“He’s got a really, really good ball carrying game,” Murray added. “I would say Tom’s ball carrying is better than most of the other sevens we have at the club.

“He’s also shown us defensively at training that he’s been able to make that step up. He was involved with Scotland Under-20’s and the style of play there – that’s a good level – and he’s been consistent at the top level of the club game. He’s in the Scotland Club XV squad at the moment as well. He wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think highly of him.”

Similarly, Robbie Smith – who was captaining Scotland Under-20s this time last year – was perhaps sixth in line at hooker at the start of the campaign, but injuries to Fraser Brown and George Turner, plus the departure of James Malcolm to Doncaster Knight on loan for the season and an international call-up for Grant Stewart, means that he is also braced to make his professional bow off the bench.

“He’s in our academy and has played a lot of rugby for Ayr in the first half of the season, but hasn’t played much recently, mainly because he was cover for us,” explained Murray. “He’s a really robust young hooker – he’s physical anda really good ball-carrier. This is his first run-out for us, so it’ll be atest for him to play at this level, but we’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”

Smith is understudying Kevin Bryce, who has been around the pro game for the last five and a half years and was capped three times by Scotland between June 2014 and September 2015. But, he has – amazingly – managed only four starts and 31 appearances off the bench in that time.

His career really stalled when he moved to Edinburgh during the summer of 2016 and attempted to convert to tight-head prop [not all of the Murrayfield Performance Department’s mad-cap ideas work out!], but the 30-year-old decided he did not want to let his rugby career fizzle out, so he returned to Warriors at the start of this season, initially on a short-term deal before agreeing a partnership arrangement through to the end of the season with Stirling County.

“When Kevin left Edinburgh, he was awayfrom professional rugby for a while, so it took him time just to get hisbody right,” said Murray. “But he’s trained well for us and he was on the bench against Saracens. There are bits of his game that he needs to improve, and he knowsthat, but he’s in a good place for us just now.

“His body shape has changed a lot since he came back. He had put on a bit more weight to play at prop, so the conditioning guys have had to work with him, and he’s made real inroads in terms of losing weight and changing his body composition.

“He’s had a lot of training although not much game-time with us. He’s played a bit with Stirling County at hooker aswell so he’s in a good place. He’s obviously an important player for us now with both Fraser and George coming back from injury. This is an important game for Kevin to show us what he can do.”

Oli Kebble is feeling under the weather, which is not a major problem because both Alex Allan (who is starting at loose-head prop) and Jamie Bhatti (who is on the bench) need game time.

“With both of those guys being in contention for Scotland, Gregorwas keen to see them get game-time,” acknowledged Murray. “That helps us and also helps Scotland.”

Glasgow Warriors (v Ospreys at Scotstoun Stadium, tomorrow 7.35pm, live on Premier Sports): Ruaridh Jackson;  Lee Jones, Nick Grigg, Stafford McDowall, Niko Matawalu; Brandon Thomson, Nick Frisby; Alex Allan, Kevin Bryce, Siua Halanukonuka, Tim Swinson, Scott Cummings, Rob Harley (C), Matt Smith, Adam Ashe. Subs:  Robbie Smith, Jamie Bhatti, D’Arcy Rae, Tevita Tameilau, Thomas Gordon, Robbie Nairn, Alex Dunbar, Rory Hughes.

Ospreys: Dan Evans; Hanno Dirksen, Johnny Kotze, Cory Allen, Luke Morgan; Sam Davies (C), Tom Habberfield; Gareth Thomas, Scott Baldwin, Tom Botha, Lloyd Ashley, James King, Olly Cracknell, Sam Cross, Rob McCusker. Subs: Scott Otten, Rowan Jenkins, Gheorghe Gajion, Will Griffiths, Will Jones, Matthew Aubrey, Luke Price, Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler.

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About David Barnes 3908 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.