ADAM NICOL has been handed his first start for Glasgow Warriors, against Zebre at Scotstoun this evening [Friday], and with the club currently in the midst of a tight-head prop mini-crisis due to Zander Fagerson and Siua Halanukonuka both being out injured for the foreseeable future, the 21-year-old has an opportunity to play his way into contention for next week’s eagerly anticipated Heineken Champions Cup curtain-raiser against Saracens.
Head coach Dave Rennie confirmed yesterday that he is hoping to recruit a stand-in tight-head before next Sunday’s match against the English champions, but until a deal is signed, sealed and delivered, he is down to just two recognised number threes in Nicol (who made his debut for the club off the bench against the Ospreys when he was still an out-and-out amateur back in November 2016, but has only managed five more substitute appearances since then) and the more experienced Darcy Rae (who is on the bench tonight). South African Oli Kebble can also play tight-head in an emergency but prefers to be on the loose-head.
Trying to recruit a top quality tight-head at this stage in the season is a tricky challenge. There are not that many around to start with, and, given how specialised and attritional the position is, few clubs are likely to feel they have enough depth to be sharing a genuine first team contender. The bottom line is, if Nicol – who signed a one-year pro deal with the club in July – can stand up to Zebre tonight then he has a very good chance of being involved in Europe during the next few weeks.
“We’re really happy with what Adam has brought on the training pitch. He made a little cameo last week and this is a chance to put him under a bit more heat to find out a bit more about him,” said Rennie.
“It’s well documented that we’ve got a couple of tight-heads missing,” he added. “We are going to bring in some reinforcements because we are only one injury away from being under massive pressure, but we like what we’ve seen from Adam: he’s a pretty good athlete, has a good skill-set and he’s learning all the time from a scrummaging point of view. It has been great for him to go up against guys like Oli Kebble on a weekly basis [at training].”
Davidson also gets the nod
The Warriors are also pretty thin on the ground in the second-row, so Andrew Davidson – who is back in his hometown on loan from Newcastle Falcons – is given his first start for the club, alongside captain for the day Jonny Gray.
“He’s really impressed us,” explained Rennie. “He’s a local boy who is plying his trade down in Newcastle. We’ve got a number of injuries in the second-row – I think we’ve got four locks out [Tim Swinson, Scott Cummings, Kiran McDonald and Brian Alainu’uese] – so Newcastle were good enough to loan him to us.
“It’s good for him too, to be playing at this level as opposed to maybe playing ‘A’ team rugby for Newcastle. He’s a big man, a really good athlete, he runs good lines, he brings really good physicality on the training pitch and we liked what he saw in his little cameo last week. It will be a really proud moment for him and his family tomorrow.”
Co-captains Callum Gibbins and Ryan Wilson have been rested for this one, with Chris Fusaro, Adam Ashe and Matt Fagerson forming a back-row triumvirate, while Tevita Tameilau – a 6ft 5inch and 19½ stone American number eight recruited from Utah Warriors during the summer – will make his first appearance off the bench having spent the last six weeks getting up to speed.
“We contemplated throwing him on the bench last week,” revealed Rennie. “But we decided to go via the club scene and he got a big chunk of footie into him [playing for Currie Chieftains in the Tennent’s Premiership] last week.
“We are really happy with where he has got to. We have a lot of competition for places around that spot. Adam and Matt are starting – and I guess they are both pushing for inclusion against Saracens next week – with Tevita on the bench, Bruce Flockhart has been going really well and you have guys like Ryan Wilson who are not playing this week. We are very excited, he is a good athlete, a great skill-set and brings a lot of physicality.
“He is very explosive, likes to break tackles, break the line, offload and so on. He gives us a little bit better balance. We are keen to see how it goes.”
The inside backs look pretty close to full strength, with George Horne coming back in for Ali Price at scrum-half, while Adam Hastings, Alex Dunbar and Huw Jones are retained at 10, 12 and 13, respectively.
“We’ve got some decisions to make around nine but we’re really happy with the way Ali has gone and George gets a chance to remind of us of his qualities this week,” said Rennie.
“We’re really happy with how Alex and Huw played together last week in combination with Adam, so we’re going to churn those guys out again and give them a bit of a chance to make a statement for selection the following week.”
Focus on Zebre
Tommy Seymour and DTH van der Merwe are both missing again this week but are expected to be back in the mix for Europe. However, Rory Hughes (coming in for Niko Matawalu, to make his first appearance for the club since injuring his shoulder in September 2017) and Lee Jones will be hell-bent on making sure that they are front and centre in any selection debate ahead of Saracens – and they will achieve that by putting in big performances in this match, which Rennie insists must not be regarded as a foregone conclusion.
“What we know is that Zebre lead the competition in offloads and line-breaks and are prepared to keep the ball in hand and play a hell of a lot,” the coach pointed out. “They are going to ask a lot of questions of us defensively, which will be good. We are very mindful of the threat they pose, and we are certainly not underestimating them, which is why we have a good team on the paddock.
“They are a real handful in attack and play a really optimistic brand of footie, which is the total opposite to the Dragons last week who were pretty negative in most aspects.”
Glasgow Warriors (v Zebre at Scotstoun, tonight, 7.35pm – live on FreeSports 2): R Jackson; L Jones, H Jones, A Dunbar, R Hughes; A Hastings, G Horne; O Kebble, G Turner, A Nicol, A Davidson, J Gray©, A Ashe, C Fusaro, M Fagerson. Subs: G Stewart, A Allan, D Rae, G Peterson, M Smith, T Tameilau, P Horne, N Matawalu.
Zebre: E Padovani; G Di Giulio, G Bisegni, T Boni, P Balekana; F Brummer, M Violi; C Ah-Nau, O Fabiani, E Bello, l Krumov, G Biagi©, A Tauyavuca, J Meyer, J Tuivaiti. Subs: M Ceciliani, D Rimpelli, R Tenga, S Ortis, G Zilocchi, R Raffaele, M Azzolini, G Venditti.
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Read The Offside Line’s interview with Adam Nicol from March 2017, when he was a full-time student at Glasgow University, playing club rugby for Stirling County and beginning to show his potential as part of the Scotland Under-20s squad –