PRO14: ruthless Rennie challenges Russell to earn his place back

Talismanic stand-off dropped to bench for Connacht clash

Glasgow Warriors head coach Dave Rennie has acted decisively in changing his half-backs for tonight's clash against Connacht
Glasgow Warriors head coach Dave Rennie has acted decisively in changing his half-backs for tonight's clash against Connacht ***Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson***

GLASGOW WARRIORS head coach Dave Rennie and his predecessor Gregor Townsend are old pals. They first got to know each other when the Scotsman spent time working under the New Zealander at the Chiefs Super Rugby franchise back in 2012, and the relationship forged then was a key factor in persuading one of the of the most successful and highly rated coaches of the southern hemisphere to throw his lot in with the Warriors this summer.

The pair have similar philosophies when it comes to how the game should be played and the importance of having the right culture within the squad – but Rennie showed yesterday that while the overall outlooks match, the means of getting to that goal can be very different.

When Rennie was asked about his decision to drop playmaker Finn Russell to the bench for this evening’s Guinness PRO14 clash against Connacht after a fairly shambolic display in a 26-8 defeat to the Scarlets last weekend, he initially offered some words of appeasement.

“It was Finn’s first game back in [after the Six Nations],” said the 54-year-old, before thinking better of it and calling the selection call exactly as he saw it.

“We are going into the business end of the season and I want them to understand that regardless of reputation we are just going to play guys that we think will do the job for us,” he said.

It should be stressed that Rennie is not looking to burn any bridges with his talismanic playmaker, who will leave the club this summer to join Racing 92. But, whereas Townsend went out of his way to re-emphasise his faith in Russell when the 25-year-old had a tricky start to this year’s Six Nations, Rennie withdrew the stand-off from the action at half-time last Friday and has now challenged the player to fight his way back into the team.

“Finn is pretty clear on expectations. He is desperate to leave this club with another title and leading the way. Ultimately you are judged by your performance and judged by your preparation. If guys don’t perform as expected you have two options. You give them another crack or you apply pressure by showing confidence in others. We have lots of competition for places here and Finn has had a pretty good run of it with Scotland, starting every game, so we are keen to give Horney [Peter Horne] a start,” explained Rennie.

“To be honest, to win it we need Finn playing at his best. He was a couple of shades off it last week. Horney is a pretty accomplished ten as well and he gets a crack this week. Hopefully Finn comes off the bench this week and plays well.

“I have a lot of confidence in him [Horne]. His attention to detail is excellent. He is very professional in his preparation. I just think he needs more time in the seat. There is every chance he will play a lot of footy next season for us at ten along with Adam Hastings, who has been really good for us as well.”

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Hooray Henry

Rennie has made a similar call at scrum-half, where Henry Pyrgos makes only his fifth start of the campaign ahead of Ali Price, who threw a horror interception pass (an almost exact replica of the one he threw in that debacle in Wales at the start of the Six Nations) which cost the Warriors a try at a crucial moment last weekend.

“It’s been a challenging period for Henry,” said Rennie. “Obviously, we’ve used George Horne a lot and Ali is ahead of him in the pecking order in the Scotland scene, but we’ve been really impressed by Henry in the last three to four weeks. He’s put his disappointment of the Scottish campaign behind him and he’s been working really hard.

“He’s very experienced and he’s led well with this young group during the Six Nations. I thought he was excellent against Zebre a couple of weeks ago and we contemplated giving him a start against Scarlets based on how well he’s been going.

“We are still trying to create competition for places there, and with George away at the Commonwealth Games, Henry gets a decent crack – and he deserves his place on form.”

Alex Dunbar returns at inside centre, lining up alongside Sam Johnson. That means Huw Jones misses out again, with Rennie indicting that the prolific try-scorer’s defence is counting against him at the moment.

“Sam has probably been our best midfielder throughout the year and you have to find a place for him going into the business part of the season, so that leaves four other international midfielders, and with Peter Horne able to play ten and twelve that leaves just one other place,” said Rennie.

“It’s tough for Huw. He’s had a really strong attacking campaign for Scotland, he’s certainly a high-quality finisher – and he is working really hard on his defensive game. He might get an opportunity next week, but it’s hard to fit them all in.”

Fraser Brown also makes his comeback at hooker; while Matt Fagerson has been rushed home this week from Australia’s Gold Coast, where he had been scheduled to represent the Scotland 7s team at the Commonwealth Games, to replace club captain Ryan Wilson – out for a couple of weeks with a chest injury – at number eight.

Kebble’s season is over

Meanwhile, South African prop Oli Kebble’s injury-ravaged first season with the Warriors has come to a frustrating end due to an ankle issue.

The Warriors need to pick up four points from their three remaining matches in the regular PRO14 season to ensure a top place finish in Conference A, which would secure a favourable home draw in the play-off semi-finals. A win tonight would get the job done.

“It was a pretty flat performance [against Scarlets] last week. We created opportunities but our lack of accuracy saw us convert just one of our seven line breaks. Against quality sides, you’ll get punished,” said Rennie.

“Connacht lead the competition in ball carries with the ability to look after possession for long periods of time. It will be a great test of our defensive resilience.”

Glasgow Warriors (v Connacht at Scotstoun, Friday 13th April, ko: 7.35pm): S Hogg; T Seymour, A Dunbar, S Johnson, D van der Merwe; P Horne, H Pyrgos; A Allan, F Brown, Z Fagerson, S Cummings, J Gray, R Harley, C Gibbins (capt.), M Fagerson. Subs: G Stewart, J Bhatti, S Halanukonuka, K McDonald, C Fusaro, A Price, F Russell, N Matawalu.

Connacht Rugby: D Leader, N Adeolokun, B Aki, P Robb, M Healy, J Carty, K Marmion, D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham, U Dillane, Q Roux, E Masterson, J Butler (capt.), E McKeon. Subs: S Delahunt, P McCabe, C Carey, G Thornbury, J Muldoon, C Blade, T Farrell, S Ili.

About David Barnes 4026 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The 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.


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