SAM JOHNSON has an opportunity to catapult himself back into the Scotland team for next weekend’s long-awaited final Six Nations match against Wales in Llanelli if he puts in a big performance for Glasgow Warriors against Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium tomorrow [Saturday] night.
The centre, who has been out of action with a knee injury since rugby came out of lockdown, trained with the Scotland squad this week, but national team head coach Gregor Townsend decided he would be better getting game-time at club level this weekend, rather than be thrown back in at the deep-end for the Autumn Test series opener against Georgia earlier this evening.
Johnson has been a stalwart of Scotland team for the last few seasons, and was supposed to play against Wales back in March before the fixture was postponed.
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“Sam hasn’t played for something like eight months so it is his first game back, but we all know what an exciting, quality rugby player he is,” said Warriors head coach Danny Wilson, after naming the Australian-born 27-year-old at inside centre. “Having him is a real plus and we’ve also got Nick Grigg and Huw Jones released from Scotland in the back-line so that’s great. The two wingers are the same as last week but we have a different nine and 10.
“Jamie Dobie [at scrum-half] is a really exciting youngster. We’ve talked a lot about developing and bringing through our younger players and this is an example of that. He’s going to get out there in a big game and we are all excited about seeing him.
“We know that to play fast is already in him and we want to do that at the appropriate times and in the conditions – which we may not get this weekend – but also understanding how to manage a game, how to control a game. That’s a huge part for Scottish 9s developing in my opinion as they come through the system.
“Pete Horne is a very experienced back. He has played more rugby at 12 than 10, but he has trained well and we are looking forward to giving him a crack with that backline.”
It is a dangerous looking backline, which could do some damage with any amount of front-foot possession from the pack, where there is two debutants but also a few characters who have been around the block and back again with the Warriors over the years.
With Scott Cummings and Rob Harley both away on international duty, and Leone Nakarawa injured, 23-year-old Hamish Bain will make his first appearance at this level, having spent the last two seasons playing third tier French rugby with SRU partnership club Stade Nicois.
“It’s an opportunity for him which has probably come out the blue a little bit,” conceded Wilson. “Maybe the plan would have been to keep his development going a little bit longer.
“He has gone from a very different training environment to this one. He’s had to learn how to adapt to the training load of being a professional rugby player at this kind of level, which is very different to where he was in France. He’s openly said that.
“He’s picked up a few niggles along the way, so that has affected some of his build-up. But when he has trained over the last couple of weeks, he’s been really impressive.
“He’s a big lump [at 6ft 7ins] and a good line-out forward. He’s got a great attitude. He’s just a young man so, from our point of view, it’s another player we’re all excited about. We need to give him the opportunity to flourish.
Bain will be helped through his debut by having the highly experienced Richie Gray (who has also been released by Scotland to get some game-time) alongside him in the engine-room.
There is a second debutant in the pack in the shape Samoan back-rower TJ Ioane, who joined the club two weeks ago on a loan deal from London Irish. He will pack down at No8 but is likely to rotate roles with skipper Ryan Wilson.
“What you’ll probably see is the ability to use Ryan in the No 8 slot at certain times and TJ in the No 8 slot at times, depending on what we want to do tactically in the game,” explained Wilson.
“Ryan is your out-and-out line-out forward, whereas TJ isn’t. TJ is more of a ball-carrier and more of an abrasive player.
“Ryan has played a lot of rugby for us at six, and likewise Tom Gordon at seven, so we don’t really want to be changing that combination.
“It’s more just the No 8 shirt being on TJ’s back, rather than him traditionally playing completely at No 8.”
George Turner is the fifth Scotland squad member released back to Warriors this week and he will line up between Aki Seiuli and D’Arcy Rae in the front-row.
Glasgow Warriors (v Ospreys at Liberty Stadium, Saturday 5.30pm): H Jones; T Seymour, N Grigg, S Johnson, R Tagive; P Horne, J Dobie; A Seiuli, G Turner, D Rae, H Bain, R Gray, R Wilson, T Gordon, T Ioane. Substitutes: G Stewart, A Allan, E Pieretto, F Lokotui, C Fusaro, S Kennedy, B Thomson, N Matawalu.
Ospreys: D Evans; M Protheroe, S Williams, K Williams, L Morgan; S Myler, R Morgan-Williams; R Jones, D Lake, M Fia, A Beard, B Davies, O Cracknell, D Lydiate (C), J King. Substitutes: S Otten, G Thomas, T Botha, W Griffiths, S Cross, H Morgan, J Thomas, T Thomas-Wheeler.
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU)