PRO12 Preview: Russell eyes Warriors comeback while Nel closes in on 100 cap mark in capital

GREGOR TOWNSEND has made six personnel changes and four more positional alterations to his Glasgow Warriors team for tonight’s away clash against Cardiff Blues, including a first competitive start for the club for centre Nick Grigg.

But perhaps the most significant selection of the weekend does not feature on the team-list, with Finn Russell being released by the pro side to make his long awaited return to action playing for Ayr against Hawick in the BT Premiership on Saturday afternoon, having recovered from a horror head injury at the tail-end of last season which at one point threatened to end his career.

The stand-off played for Ayr before turning professional, and retains strong links with the club, regularly attending home matches when not tied up on Scotland or Glasgow Warriors duty.  He could be spotted on the main pitch at Millbrae a couple of hours after their victory over Currie three weeks ago playing an informal game of touch rugby with a group of kids. He will line up this weekend alongside brother Archie, who has been selected in the centre.

Meanwhile, Josh Strauss comes in at number eight for the Warriors, with Ryan Wilson shifting to open-side flanker in place of Simone Favaro, who has a shoulder injury. Zander Fagerson rotates with Sila Puafisi into the tight-head prop berth.

It’s all change at half-back, with Ali Price and Rory Clegg taking over from Henry Pyrgos (knee injury) and Peter Horne (shifted to centre). Lee Jones makes his first start of the campaign on the left wing, alongside the in-form duo of Stuart Hogg at full-back and last week’s man-of-the-match Tommy Seymour on the right wing, and the latter will be desperate to add to the six tries he has already scored in just two outings so far this season.

On the bench, Olympic silver medallist Mark Bennett is involved for the first time since returning from Rio; alongside Greg Peterson, Grayson Hart and Rory Hughes, who all played club rugby last weekend.

Over at Edinburgh, WP Nel will make his 100th appearance for the capital men against Leinster at Murrayfield this evening, but the giant South African born prop, who has been touted as a likely Lions Test team starter during next summer’s tour to New Zealand, is remaining tight-lipped about the prospect of him reaching many more landmarks with the club beyond the end of the current season.

His contract is up in the summer, and while he feels “quite settled” after five years in one place, he added that discussions are not currently taking place with a view to extending his stay in the capital.  “No chat at this moment. I am just concentrating on this season,” he stated.

Head coach Alan Solomons has reshuffled his back-row, with Hamish Watson replacing the concussed John Hardie at open-side flanker, and Tongan international Viliami Fihaki making his competitive debut for the club at number eight, prompting Magnus Bradbury to be shifted to blindside flanker so that Jamie Ritchie can be given a weekend off.

The rest of the team is unchanged from the side which started last Friday’s rain-sodden victory over the Scarlets.


Teams –

Edinburgh: G Bryce; M Allen, S Tofilau, P Burleigh, T Brown; D Weir, N Fowles; R Sutherland, R Ford, W Nel, B Toolis, G Gilchrist©, M Bradbury, H Watson, V Fihaki. Subs: S McInally, A Dell, K Bryce, F McKenzie, C Du Preez, S Hidalgo-Clyne, S Rasolea, B Kinghorn.

Leinster: Z Kirchener; I Nacewa©, G Ringrose, N Reid, D Kearney; J Carbery, J Gibson-Park; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Ross, D Toner, M McCarthy, J Murphy, D Leavy, J Heaslip. Subs: B Byrne, C Healy, T Furlong, R Malony, J van der Fllier, L McGrath, C Marsh, R O’Loughlin.

What the coaches say –

“It was good to get the win under our belt last week. We know we need to build on that, but appreciate that we will have to be at our best against a powerful Leinster outfit. I understand Jamie Heaslip will be back, Devin Toner will be back and that will make a big difference to them (after last week’s defeat at Glasgow) …” Alan Solomons (Edinburgh)


Teams –

Blues: M Morgan; A Cuthbert, C Allen, R Lee-Lo, T James; G Anscombe, L Williams; G Jenkins, K Dacey, T Filise, G Earle, J Turnbull, S Warburton, E Jenkins, J Navidi. Subs: M Rees, R Gull, S Andrews, M Cook, N Williams, T Williams, S Shingler, B Scully.

Warriors: S Hogg; T Seymour, N Grigg, P Horne, L Jones; R Clegg, A Price; G Reid, F Brown, Z Fagerson, T Swinson, J Gray©, R Harley, R Wilson, J Strauss. Subs: P MacArthur, A Allan, S Puafisi, G Peterson, L Wynne, M Bennett, R Hughes.

What the coaches say –

“At this minute, Glasgow are the best team in the Championship. They have shown that again in the start they have made. They are a very well coached, very well drilled side that have performed at the top end of the PRO12 for a long time. They have started this Championship well so it will be a huge challenge, our toughest game yet but if we could get a win at home then what a platform to build on. I feel we’re in a similar place, we are an in form team coming off the back of two wins and we will play them with huge confidence …” Danny Wilson (Blues)

“Cardiff have started the season very strongly and can score tries from anywhere. They have had excellent wins against Edinburgh and Munster and we’re going to need to improve defensively to get a positive result …” Gregor Townsend (Warriors)

Image courtesy Scottish Rugby/SNS Group


About David Barnes 3802 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.