JONNY GRAY will have a six-week post World Cup lay-off which means he won’t play in Glasgow Warriors’ opening two European Champions Cup pool matches against Sale Sharks on 16th November and Exeter Chiefs seven days later, as part of a plan to manage the famously hard-working second-row’s load over the next nine months.
“It is cumulative,” explained Warriors head coach Dave Rennie. “He did not play a lot of footie before the World Cup because of injury but he has played a lot for us [in the past]. Looking at it long term from a Scottish perspective, with the Six Nations and a pretty challenging summer tour, he is being managed a little longer.
“He will have six weeks out and I anticipate him being back in time to face Leinster [on 30th November] prior to Europe round three.”
On the plus side from a Warriors perspective, Rennie is hopeful that scrum-half Ali Price – who picked up a foot injury in Scotland’s World Cup opener against Ireland – could come into contention for the start of their European campaign.
“Ali should be on the park training and still has a chance to be available for Sale in round one of Europe,” said the coach.
Rennie added that he is expecting five more Scotland World Cup squad members – Fraser Brown, Scott Cummings, Ryan Wilson, Sam Johnson and Tommy Seymour – back for next week’s match against Zebre, to further bolster his selection options following the return of Adam Hastings, Peter and George Horne, DTH van der Merwe, Zander Fagerson and George Turner for this weekend’s home clash against Southern Kings [on Friday night] .
The return of so many influential players is undoubtedly a boost given the team’s disappointing start to the season, which has seen them manage just one win from four Guinness PRO14 games played so far.
“We are just disappointed because we have been training well and preparing well but not performing well enough,” said Rennie. “Look at last week, we had twice the number of line-breaks the Dragons had, twice the tackle-breaks but we also had twice the errors. That hurt us.
“We have conceded six tries in the last three games and four of them have been when we were in possession. That tells a bit of a story. We need to be better in that area, but I don’t think we are far off, and the injection of these boys will help.
“We could have brought some of those guys back in last week, but we just wanted to make sure they were mentally fresh and ready to go,” he added. “There is a big run of games now right through to the end of January. It has been great [getting them back in training], they are full of energy and enthusiasm and bring a lot of experience, it has been really good.
“I caught up with them and stressed the importance of enthusiasm. A few of our boys are pretty disappointed, as you would imagine, but there are a few young men in among that who have played a lot of footie for us. It is good from our perspective.
Rennie identified the nine-ten-twelve axis for the Kings clash as likely to be key in any change to the team’s fortunes. “Clearly, when you have George Horne, Adam Hastings and Peter Horne out there, there is a lot of communication, which is something that has probably been missing a bit,” he reasoned.
“We had a pretty brutal review on Monday, you need to do that because you need to look back first. From then on, it has all been about being really positive. From the review we had more than enough opportunities to nail that game, but we have to be better. We have to train well: everyone is working hard but we need to see that for 80 minutes on the park.
“We are still really positive: we know what we need to do and hope to see evidence of that tomorrow night.”
Rennie added that the form of Kiran McDonald – one of the emerging players to come out this opening month of the season with reputation significantly advanced – has taken some of the sting out of Gray’s unavailability.
“He has been outstanding for us, he has always been a good athlete but he has brought a lot of edge to his game,” said Rennie. “He has responsibility for calling our line-out and he has certainly carried well and so on. He has given us a bit of line-speed defensively. He has been really good generally, so we are keen to give him another crack.
“Likewise, Glenn Bryce [full-back] carried really strongly last week and was really assertive. He has an excellent skillset and suits the kind of game we are trying to play and also kicks very well. It is nice to reward these guys,” the coach added.
Meanwhile, Rennie acknowledged in a TV interview that he has been sounded out about taking on the soon to be vacant head coach role for the New Zealand rugby team.
“I think they’ve probably made contact with a number of Kiwis coaching over this way about whether they have an interest in the role, and then they are going to have a process where they interview and make an appointment in the New Year,” the 55-year-old told STV. “Obviously, it is flattering, it is humbling, because they’ve always been such a great side, but I haven’t had a lot of time to dwell on that because I’m totally focussed on what we are doing here [at Glasgow].”
Rennie has been strongly linked to the Australia job in recent week but it has also been reported in New Zealand that he is on a list of names being considered for the All Blacks position, although current All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster and Scott Robertson, a three times Super Rugby winner with the Crusaders, are believed to be the front-runners. Former All Black and current Japan head coach Jamie Joseph is also likely to be a leading contender.