ALI Price will make his first start of the season for Glasgow when they take on the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein tonight, and Warriors head coach Dave Rennie is confident that the scrum-half is back at his sharpest after a difficult few months. Rennie was dissatisfied with Price in the latter part of last season, saying he returned from Scotland duty looking “overweight, heavy and a big sluggish”, but has been pleased with the player’s attitude and application during the early stages of this campaign.
“He’s in great nick, really fit and really lean,” Rennie said yesterday. “We’re really happy with him. I know he’s keen and I know he’s highly motivated. He’s trained really well.
“I expect him to get out there and work really hard and deliver on his core skill sets. We don’t need any more than that. He’s come back and worked really hard and we just want to see the evidence of that in the weekend.”
Price was firmly established as the first-choice scrum-half at Scotstoun before George Horne’s breakthrough last season, but with Nick Frisby now also in the mix, Rennie sees no need to rush into a decision on who is at the top of the pecking order now. “There’s plenty of competition for places in all slots in our team, so you need to be at your best,” he continued. “Ali is aware of that and he will put his best foot forward on Saturday.
“We don’t have any firm thoughts about who’s going to be No 1 long-term. They’ve all the different skill sets and strengths. They will all get opportunities. George has started the first couple and Ali gets a crack this week.”
Horne and Frisby are both on the bench this week, alongside Scotland centre Huw Jones, who is in a matchday squad for the first time this season. Stuart Hogg has an ankle niggle, so his place at full-back goes to Ruaridh Jackson, while Nick Grigg misses out through illness and his place at outside centre goes to Alex Dunbar. In the pack, Ryan Wilson is sidelined with a knee problem, so Rob Harley moves from lock to blindside and Scott Cummings returns to the second row.
“The reason we have two halfbacks on the bench is because we had a bit of sickness and then injury,” Rennie explained. “Fortunately, George is reasonably quick so he can play wing as well as nine, and Nick Frisby can play nine, 10 and 15. It may be a bit unusual, but all the backs still standing on tour are in the mix this week.”
Hogg, Wilson and Grigg should all be available to play against the Southern Kings next week as the Warriors continue their stay in South Africa. Injuries permitting, Rennie also appears minded to make a couple of additional changes, although he explained that little had changed since he said before the season began that the team had been pencilled in for the first six games.
“Not really. We’ve had the odd guy who has played really well who has got a little extra game time than originally anticipated a few weeks back. What we know is we have to share the load – we have to leave some of our international boys out.
“A couple are missing this week, some will miss out next week, and on our return home we’ll need fresh legs to come in. We haven’t changed a lot in regard to our thinking around selection.
Glasgow won on their last visit to Bloemfontein, beating the Cheetahs 29-26 in October to stretch their winning run from the start of the PRO14 season to six games. They have won their first two outings of this campaign – against Connacht and Munster – without really putting a complete performance together, and if they are to make it three in a row they will need someone such as Jones to hit their top form.
“He’s looking really sharp,” Rennie said of the Scotland centre. “Our intention initially was not to include him this week, try to get a bit more work in, especially handling, and then come in next week. But with Nick’s illness and Hoggy out as well we have him on the bench. But he’s ready to go, he’s keen as. He’ll be grateful for any game time.
“I’ve been really impressed with Huw. He’s worked really hard, certainly in areas we felt he needed to make some shifts in and so we’ll be keen to see how he goes in the next couple of weeks. What we know is he’s a really quality finisher, he’s got a lot of wheels and adds something different. Looking forward to seeing him go – he’s in a really good mindset.”
Glasgow Warriors (v Cheetahs at Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein, Saturday, 6.30pm BST, live on FreeSports): R Jackson; T Seymour, A Dunbar, P Horne, D van der Merwe; A Hastings, A Price; O Kebble, F Brown, Z Fagerson, S Cummings, J Gray, R Harley, C Gibbins, A Ashe. Subs: G Turner, A Allan, D Rae, M Fagerson, C Fusaro, G Horne, N Frisby, H Jones.
Cheetahs: M Jaer; W Small-Smith, B van Rensburg, N Lee, R Maxwane; T Schoeman, T Meyer; C Marais, J Dweba, A Coetzee, W Steenkamp, J du Preez, G Olivier, J Pokomela, A Davis. Subs: J du Toit, O Nche, G van Rensburg, D Visser, N Jordaan, M van der Merwe, S Venter, R Eksteen.
Referee: F Murphy (Ireland).