DAVE RENNIE says that his decision to leave Finn Russell on the bench for the second week in a row has nothing to do with succession planning for life after the talismanic stand-off leaves Glasgow Warriors to join Racing 92 in the summer, but is purely and simply the best strategy to get the required result in Saturday’s eagerly anticipated 1872 Cup clash against Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield.
“We have two good tens there and Pete Horne gets the nod. We were happy with Pete’s 60 minutes last week. He controlled the game very well. He did everything we asked of him so we want to reward that,” insisted the Warriors head coach.
“The blend was good last week, especially in the first half. We took them on through the middle but did not overdo that, nor did we go wide-wide all day. Edinburgh will be no different. We have to paint a picture that we have to commit some numbers but we have to be prepared to play at the same time.”
“Both [Horne and Russell] will play some part against Edinburgh. I was really happy last week with Finn when the game broke up. He was able to put a lot of people in space around him as we know he can do.”
“We have no perception about Peter being in the starting team from now on either. We are just keen to reward his good performance from last week and that’s why he starts.”
With Fijian livewire Niko Matawalu also among the replacements, the Warriors are certainly not going to be short of ingenuity during the final quarter.
Meanwhile, the return from a knee injury of experienced flanker Rob Harley comes at an opportune time given the loss of club captain Ryan Wilson for six weeks with a damaged ankle sustained against Montpellier last weekend.
With Callum Gibbins (achilles) and Adam Ashe (ankle) also out of action, the back-row unit which was so influential for the Warriors at the start of the season has been completely decimated.
But one door closing inevitably means another opening, and on this occasion it is 21-year-old Matt Smith at open-side flanker and Fijian-born Samu Vunisa at number eight who get the opportunity to carry on from where they left off last week.
In Wilson’s absence, Jonny Gray – who signed a two-year contract extension earlier this week – takes over the captaincy.
“Ryan’s pretty grumpy not being involved – these couple of weeks mean a lot to him – but Jonny is a special man considering the number of times he’s played for this club and his country for a 23-year-old,” said Rennie.
“He’s a talisman around work-ethic, his numbers are phenomenal. We’ve seen really good shifts in his game: he is leaner, he is fitter and more agile. You saw him getting away a number of offloads last week and I just think he’ll get better and better. He’s truly world class so I’m very excited.”
The Warriors are looking to equal Ulster’s record from season 2012-13 of winning their first 11 league matches in the bounce, and in theory they should have enough in the locker to get the result they are after – but this game rarely follows a predictable script and Rennie reckons Edinburgh are a far trickier proposition now than they have been for several years.
“They will have a lot of confidence. I think they have won eight of their last nine, and they are playing a really good brand of footy,” he said. “Certainly, if you ask Kenny Murray, our defence coach, he has had a lot more work to do this week planning their demise. In previous years it was: deal with their drive, their box kick and their kick-chase game. Now there are a few more challenges about it but we are certainly up for it.”
Glasgow Warriors (v Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield on Saturday 23rd December, kick-off 5.10pm): R Jackson; T Seymour, H Jones, A Dunbar, L Jones; P Horne, A Price; J Bhatti, F Brown, Z Fagerson, S Cummings, J Gary (c), R Harley, M Smith, S Vunisa. Substitutes: P MacArthur, O Kebble, S Halanukonuka, K McDonald, C Fusaro, H Pyrgos, F Russell, N Matawalu.