DAVE RENNIE says he has absolutely no qualms about sending out a half-back partnership to take on the Southern Kings at Scotstoun tonight which consists of two players who are making their first competitive starts for the club.
Stand-off Adam Hastings made 15 first team appearances for Bath, mainly in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, before moving north during the summer, but a nasty leg gash has restricted the 21-year-old’s involvement with the Warriors this season to just 50 minutes off the bench against Connacht in round one. Meanwhile, 22-year-old scrum-half George Horne has come off the bench four times for the club – three times at the tail-end of last season and only once in this campaign.
When asked if the players were ready to pull the strings for the Warriors in tonight’s match, the Kiwi coach was emphatic. “Absolutely,” he insisted. “George spent the whole off-season with us and played in the two trials. He has had a couple of cameos off the bench. He has been training full-time with us and he’s a very good half-back.”
“Adam also started the two pre-season games. He played a big chunk of the Connacht game and got injured, which kept him out for some time. He is young and it is difficult to make comparisons with Finn [Russell], but he really impressed us in pre-season. He has a great work ethic. We asked him to make some changes and he has gone back to club rugby and done that. He has a good skill set. He has the ability to challenge defences and make space for others. He’s got a pretty solid kicking game and he is brave.
“In terms of managing a game, he has made improvements in that area and hopefully we will see evidence of that this weekend.”
“They are both good players, and they’ve both got a lot of growth in their game to come, too – but we’re really comfortable that they’ll deliver tomorrow, and it’s important that they do because there’s a chance for them to play a fair bit of footie for us this season.”
The bottom line is that with Ali Price, Henry Pyrgos, Russell, Rauridh Jackson and Pete Horne [George’s older brother] all likely to be tied up on Scotland duty during the next month, Rennie is going to have to find out just how effective this pair can be sooner or later, and it might as well be at home against what appears to be the weakest team in the league.
While the Warriors will be taking nothing for granted, a record of six losses so far without so much as a bonus point for the Kings in their first season in the PRO14 tells its own story.
“We had 19 guys named in that Scotland squad and you can add a few injuries to that. We’ve got to go deep with our squad over the next month. This is the chance for Adam and George to lay claim to those positions,” said Rennie.
“The Kings struggled a little bit at the start of the competition with such a short assembly time and losing a lot of their Super Rugby players, but they’ve had a couple of weeks to tidy a few things up and bring in some new personnel. They will be better than they were for the first few weeks,” the Kiwi coach continued.
“We had a good look at them, and we have a handful of new guys who haven’t played for them but we have a big focus on what we need to do.”
In the pack, Alex Allan is handed his second start of the season, with Jamie Bhatti being rested ahead of being a key man in Scotland’s Autumn Test series. Scott Cummings partners Jonny Gray in the engine-room, while two more youngsters in the back-row will be desperate to make their presence felt.
“We’ll want to play a very high tempo game, but even though Matt Smith and Matt Fagerson are not the biggest guys running around they are very aggressive so we’re expecting them to deliver physicality with or without the ball. Both are exciting young men who I reckon will play a lot of footie, and they have the old soldier Rob Harley amongst them, who will help tear it up,” said Rennie.
It was announced yesterday that number eight Adam Ashe has been sidelined for up to three months after undergoing ankle surgery. Fellow back-rowers Callum Gibbins and Ryan Wilson are also unavailable after suffering head knocks against Leinster last week, but are progressing through the return to play protocols in a timely fashion.
Ayr prospect Stafford McDowall is due to make his Warriors debut off the bench, while Lelia Masaga is back from injury and also named among the replacements.
The Warriors, of course, had a flying start to the season with six wins on the bounce in the PRO14, but have been brought back down to earth with a bump by a couple of defeats to Exeter Chiefs and Leinster in the European Champions Cup during the last fortnight.
Rennie is hopeful that the painful lessons learned in those defeats can be the catalyst to the team kicking on to achieve their full potential.
“We have big strides to make. A lot of it is about our patience and our ability to build pressure. We will go 24 phases and then put in a little kick or force a pass that isn’t on and that releases pressure. You can get away with it in some games, but against big teams like Leinster and Exeter it can hurt you,” he said.
“Both those teams are good at forcing you to make defensive errors or bring the referee into the equation. It is something we’ve worked hard on for the past few months but we still have work to do in that area. Some good lessons have been learnt and hopefully that will show in the PRO14 over the next few weeks.”
“We played a lot of good footy in the past two weeks. We got behind and fought back. But you have to hand it to Leinster and Exeter because they choked us down and got a result. We’ve got to be better.”
“We need to be the best team in this competition in May. There’s a lot of growth in the group. You’ve got to take things on the chin and learn from them. That’s why I think the last couple of weeks have been good for us.”
The Kings have new recruit Martin Du Toit at fly-half, and prop Mzamo Majola on the bench. It is the first time the South African franchise have played at Scotstoun, but it is a return to familiar territory for tight-head prop Rossouw de Klerk, who played 17 games for the Warriors during the 2014-15 season, but left the club under a cloud after being fined £625 by Glasgow Sherriff Court for a breach of the peace after passing his phone-number to a teenage girl.
Glasgow Warriors (v Southern Kings at Scotstoun, Friday 27 October, 7.35pm): S Hogg; L Jones, N Grigg, S Johnson, N Matawalu; A Hastings, G Horne; A Allan, P MacArthur, Z Ferguson, S Cummings, J Gray, R Harley, M Smith, M Fagerson. Substitutes: G Turner, R Grant, A Nicol, G Petersen, L Wynne, R Jackson, S McDowall, L Masaga
Southern Kings: M Banda; Y Penxe, B Klaasen, L Vulindlu, A Bock; M Du Toit, R van Rooyen; S Ferreira, M Willemse, R De Klerk, S Greeff, B De Wee, A Ntsila, J van Vuuren, R Lerm. Substitutes: T Balekile, M Majola, M Dreyer, L Mtyanda, K Majola, R Gouws, O Zono, J Nel