Lyon v Glasgow Warriors preview: Dave Rennie defends back-row blend

Adam Ashe merits selection ahead of co-captain Ryan Wilson, according to the coach

Adam Ashe
Adam Ashe has been preferred to Ryan Wilson in the Glasgow Warriors team to play Lyon. Image: ©INPHO/Craig Watson.

AFTER losing their first two games, Lyon’s hopes of reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup have already been badly damaged. Glasgow’s task today is to kill off those hopes entirely, while at the same time ensuring they keep up the pursuit of Saracens at the top of Pool Three.

Dave Rennie said after his team’s outstanding PRO14 win against Scarlets last week that he would have to think long and hard about selection for this afternoon’s match in France, but by and large he has stuck with a predictable choice, bringing back nearly all of his Scotland internationals into his starting line-up after most were rested following the Autumn Tests. The two exceptions are Huw Jones, who only makes the bench, and Ryan Wilson, who is left out entirely. Nick Grigg is preferred to Jones at outside-centre, while Adam Ashe is joined by skipper Callum Gibbins and Matt Fagerson in the back row.

“Adam Ashe has been outstanding for us over the last few weeks,” Rennie said when asked to explain the omission of his joint captain. “We were obviously keen to bring Matt Fagerson back in, and both those boys have really good footwork, give us very good go-forwards and carry, are explosive and they both defend really well. We just really wanted to reward that, so Ryan misses out this week.

“It’s based on form. Ryan’s played pretty well for Scotland as well, but what we know is that within those loose forwards they’ll have to share the load, and we wanted a specialist seven on the bench in Chris Fusaro knowing that Rob Harley can move from lock to 6 if we have a couple of injuries there. So unfortunately Ryan misses out this week, but as captain he’s been outstanding, he’s contributed massively to the preparation and I’ve been really impressed by him.

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“We had a lot of discussions around the loose-forward mix and we’re happy with what we came up with – and we’d have been more than happy if Ryan had started. This is a side we’ve ended up setting on.”

If the back-row combination was the main factor in the omission of Wilson, the preference of Grigg to Jones appears to have been a simple decision to select the man in form, with the former’s defensive showing last week possibly being the crucial element in Rennie’s thinking. “He’s been outstanding, both sides of the ball,” the coach continued. His ability to chop defensively, his ability to carry, he has so many line breaks and tackle breaks and his work beyond the attack, at post-tackle he’s won a lot of ball. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him and deserves another crack.”

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No easy passage

Although Lyon are down and halfway to being out of the competition, Rennie does not expect an easy game. The quality of French internationals such as stand-off Lionel Beauxis and winger Noa Nakaitaci speaks for itself, and the Glasgow boss expects the home side to go all out for a victory that would at least give them a better chance of qualifying for the last eight as one of the three best runners-up from the five pools.

“We play on a hard, fast surface here and I don’t think we’ll get that at Lyon – it will be a bit more tuggy, so conditions will be a bit different. They’re a big side, very skilful, so we still want to play a game that’s quick, but we’ll have to bring a high level of physicality to get the ball we want. We’ve picked a side that we think can do that.

“We’re mindful that they offload more than any side in the competition. They have some unbelievable athletes.  We’re clear on what we need to do and on the threats they bring. The challenge is being good enough to expose them.

“If we can win this game then maybe they’ll place more importance on their domestic competition. What we know is that they’re very strong at home and a proud side. They’ll throw everything at us this week.”

Call for consistency

Alex Allan starts his three-week suspension in this game after being sent off against Scarlets last week, and Rennie accepted at the time that the prop’s making contact with his head in the tackle merited a red card. He has not changed his mind since, but is clearly concerned that other similar incidents are not always dealt with in the same way.

“We weren’t surprised by the finding. What we hope is that there’s real consistency around this. If there’s contact with the head, then you’re going to have to face the judiciary and what we were told was ultimately, it comes in at mid-range which is six weeks, and he got three off because he’s got an exemplary disciplinary record and there was no malice in the action, more clumsy than anything else. But I just hope that there’s real consistency around [and] anyone else who makes contact with the head will be treated exactly the same.”

That was the month that was: November 2018

About Stuart Bathgate 1407 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.