GLASGOW coach Dave Rennie is confident that Paddy Kelly’s partnership at club level with Stafford McDowall will help him hit the ground running when he makes his first start for the Warriors against Connacht tonight (Friday). The centres are used to playing together at Ayr, and although Kelly has had to wait patiently for his chance at pro level, Rennie is convinced he is ready to make the step up.
“They’ve played a lot of footy together, and Paddy has been with us the last year and a half, trained a lot,” the coach said after naming his team for the PRO14 match at Scotstoun. “We’ve also got a fair bit of depth in midfield so his opportunities have been limited, but he’s a good player. Been one of the best players in club footy this year, got a really good skill set. We think the combination of him and Stafford playing together will help him transition as well.”
With 10 Warriors in the Scotland squad to play France and others still on the injury list, the starting line-up against Connacht is clearly some way short of what would be Rennie’s first-choice 15. Nonetheless, the coach has been able to call on key players such as George Horne, who is one of several first-team regulars to be returning from injury.
“You win some you lose some at this time of year,” Rennie added. “A few guys have gone back to the Scottish camp – George Turner and Zander Fagerson not unexpected. It’s nice to get Matt Fagerson back and to get Niko Matawalu back on to the pitch and Oli Kebble returning from illness. I’m not sure how many we’re missing – it’s a fair few – but we’ve got a good team on the park.
“The timeline for Matt was next week. But we’re always pushing the boundaries and working hard to try and get them back a little earlier, but it doesn’t always happen. He ticked most of the boxes late last week – he just had to get through a bit of contact on Monday to prove he was ready to go.
“Niko’s was a concussion from training last week, where Zander actually tripped over him, kicking him in the head. Once that happened we didn’t have enough days to clear him before Cardiff, but he’s been fine since Sunday. He’s done what he needed to do and available. Always great to get a few people back.”
Despite the late lapses in defence that allowed Cardiff to close to within four points last week, Rennie was happy overall with his team’s 38-34 win last week. That result has given them some a bit of a cushion in second place in Conference A, but rather than being content with holding on to that spot, the coach aims to overtake then stay ahead of current leaders Munster.
“I thought we were really good with ball in hand,” he said of the win against the Blues. “We had a really good week and a half of preparation. We were very disappointed with the way we defended in the last six minutes, but there was plenty of energy about that performance and we generated really quick ball. For those not associated with Cardiff or Glasgow I’d imagine it was a pretty attractive game of footy – 10 tries. We’re happy with how we attacked. We know we can be better defensively, but five points away from home at this time of year against a Cardiff side not heavily affected by internationals – we were really happy with that.
“There’s lots of games coming up where teams on our side of the draw are playing each other, so they’ll all be pretty important. What we know is if we’ve got aspirations to win our side of the draw, you’ve got to keep winning. Munster have got a reasonable draw. You’ve got to keep gathering points. We understand the importance of this game. If we can get some points and Connacht don’t, it’s going to stretch that lead between second and third and give us some breathing space. But we’re scraping to get to the top spot and I think to do that we’re going to need to one probably all bar one of these games. It’s going to be pretty tight.”
Glasgow Warriors (v Connacht at Scotstoun, Friday 7.35pm, live on FreeSports): Ruaridh Jackson; Kyle Steyn, Paddy Kelly, Stafford McDowell, Niko Matawalu; Brandon Thomson, George Horne; Oli Kebble, Grant Stewart, Siua Halanukonuka, Tim Swinson, Scott Cummings, Rob Harley, Chris Fusaro (captain), Adam Ashe. Substitutes: Kevin Bryce, Jamie Bhatti, Adam Nicol, Matt Fagerson, Thomas Gordon, Nick Frisby, Rory Hughes, Robbie Nairn.
Connacht:Tiernan O’Halloran; Stephen Fitzgerald, Kyle Godwin, Tom Daly, Matt Healy; Conor Fitzgerald, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Cillian Gallagher, James Cannon, Eoin McKeon, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (captain). Substitutes: Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Joe Maksymiw, Paul Boyle, Caolin Blade, Peter Robb, Cian Kelleher.