IT’S a fallow weekend in the Six Nations Championship, but that is small consolation for Dave Rennie as he prepares his Glasgow side for tonight’s home PRO14 game against the Cheetahs. The Warriors head coach will have to do without nine players because of Scotland commitments, while another nine are on the injury list, including international forwards Fraser Brown and Zander Fagerson.
The South Africans have their injury worries too, of course, but it is an unbalanced situation nonetheless – one with which the coach is unfamiliar from his native New Zealand, where the Super Rugby competition concludes before the international Rugby Championship begins. Still, rather than indulging in complaints about unfairness or dwelling on the peculiarities of the European fixture calendar, Rennie insisted yesterday that his squad, although understrength, was still good enough to win.
“We don’t talk about what’s fair and what’s not fair,” he said. “We’re going to have a really good side on the field. We’ve got good depth and we’ve played a lot of the season without internationals. Because we’ve had a lot of injuries a lot of these young men have played a lot of rugby for us.
“It is what it is. We’ve got to get out there and do a job at home. It’s got to be a challenge, as this whole period is, but we’re pretty excited by that and we have a good enough side on the paddock to do the job.
“I’m sure a lot of thought goes into this time of year. There’s no doubt that some teams are heavily understrength, like the Italian sides and the Scottish sides. Scarlets are providing a hell of a lot of Welsh players and Leinster are providing a hell of a lot of Irish. Some teams are heavily affected and some teams aren’t at all.”
The Cheetahs, who have listed eight injuries, lost by only three points to a nearly full-strength Warriors side in Bloemfontein earlier in the season. Third in Conference A, they are close to securing a place in the end-of-season play-offs, and are increasingly competitive away from home, having lost by just five points in Cardiff last week (opens in a new window).
For their part, Glasgow have a home semi-final all but in the bag, and are a dozen points clear of Munster at the top of the conference. Whatever happens tonight, the good news for them is that their lengthy injury list is starting to clear up, with Brown and Fagerson due back in action soon. However, the bad news from the Warriors’ point of view, is that both players could be drafted back into the Scotland squad as soon as they have proven their match fitness.
Brown, who has been sidelined because of worries about head knocks he has taken, could return at the start of next month against Ulster – a match which takes place a week before Scotland’s Six Nations match in Ireland. “He’s in training, doing everything but contact,” Rennie said of the hooker. “We just want to make sure we get plenty of contact work done, so we’re hoping about a couple of weeks away.
“We’re certainly not going to rush him. He’s been symptom-free for a number of weeks and we’ve had some positive news from the specialist.
“He won’t play next week [away to Munster]. He has a chance to play the following week and it wouldn’t surprise me if he goes well that he gets taken back up to the national side. That would be great for Scotland and great for him.”
Fagerson, who injured a foot in training, could also be back from the Ulster game. In that event, Rennie added, “I suspect he would be likely to be taken back by the national squad too”.
The Warriors welcome Scott Cummings and Tim Swinson back from injury, and they replace Rob Harley and Greg Peterson in the second row, with Harley moving to blindside and Peterson missing out because of the foreign players quota. Centre Sam Johnson also returns after a spell in the treatment room, taking the place of Brandon Thomson, who is on the bench. The other change in the backs sees Niko Matawalu start on the left wing instead of Ratu Tagive.
Glasgow Warriors (v Cheetahs at Scotstoun, tonight [Friday], 7.35pm): R Jackson; L Jones, N Grigg, S Johnson, N Matawalu; A Hastings, G Horne; A Allan, J Malcolm, S Halanukonuka, T Swinson, S Cummings, R Harley, C Fusaro, M Fagerson. Substitutes: G Stewart, O Kebble, D Rae, M Smith, A Ashe, H Pyrgos, B Thomson, R Tagive.
Cheetahs: C Blommetjies; C Barry, F Venter, N Lee, M Jaer; N Marais, S Venter; C Marais, T van Jaarsveld, L de Bruin, J Basson, R Hugo, H Venter, O Mohoje, U Cassiem. Substitutes: J du Toit, O Nche, J Coetzee, C Wegner, P Schoeman, Z Mkhabela, F Zeilinga, L Obi.