THE strength in depth of the Glasgow Warriors squad is going to be subject to a rigorous examination in Swansea this Friday night, but head coach Dave Rennie says he is relaxed about going into an away match against the team’s closest challengers in Conference A of the PRO14 without 14 senior players, who are all away on international duty.
“We are well aware that during international weeks it’s going to be a little bit thinner,” he said ahead of tonight’s Ospreys encounter. “We’ve got good depth and we’ve got a good side on the field. Part of our role here is for Scottish rugby – we want as many players as possible playing international footie, so it’s great from a club point of view and it always gives an opportunity for others, so we’re happy we have a good team on the park.”
Rennie’s positive frame of mind is understandable given that he is still able to name a pack containing seven players who get regular game time, even when the international contingent, plus USA international Tevita Tameilau making his first start since joining the club during the summer at number eight.
The 28-year-old is an impressive physical specimen at 6ft 4ins and just over 19st, but Rennie says there is more to the Californian than just bulk.
“He’s a strong ball carrier, a destructive defender and he has really good skills – he’s got lovely hands,” explained the coach. “So, he’s something a little bit different. That’s what excited us about him and our focus has been getting him into the sort of condition to play the type of game we like to play.
“To his credit he’s worked really hard and put in some really good shifts so he’s ready to go. I can see some similarities there [with Edinburgh’s Fijian number eight Viliame Mata)].”
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Things are slightly more stretched behind the scrum, given that the half-back and three-quarter line which will start for Scotland on Saturday consists entirely of Warriors players, plus George and Peter Horne on the bench.
However, five of the starting seven behind the scrum are capped internationalists, while this is now the third season that former South Africa Under-20 and Stormers stand-off Brandon Thomson has been involved with the squad, and inside-centre Stafford McDowall did fine when he came off the bench against Munster last weekend – and although he is only making his third appearance for the club, he has the experience of captaining Scotland Under-20s at the Junior World Championships during the summer, and has earned his chance through some towering performances for Ayr in the Tennent’s Premiership this season.
“When you look back to this time last year, there were guys like George Horne and Adam Hastings who have now gone on to international footie,” said Rennie, alluding to the possibility that some of the players getting their chance this Autumn could follow a similar career trajectory. “Obviously Stafford, who got 60-odd minutes last week – we were always planning to play him in this game, so the fact that he’s got a fair bit of time against Munster is great.
“We’ve got a couple of young guys who will come in to the mix and get a sniff off the bench [back-row Bruce Flockhart and centre Paddy Kelly], but there’s still a fair bit of experience around them.”
Scrum-half Nick Frisby, who is an Australian cap, is one of the experienced players Rennie is referring to, but he has struggled to get game time ahead of George Horne and Ali Price since arriving at the club this summer, and has not played for six weeks since his one and only start in the team’s worst performance in living memory when losing to the Southern Kings.
“There weren’t too many people who played that well against the Kings, clearly,” said Rennie, by way of mitigation. “He’s trained really well. He didn’t get a run last week, mainly because George Horne was going so well and the state of the game, but we’ve got a lot of confidence in Nick. He’s a really good player and has been an international half-back. He’s fit, he’s got a really good work-rate and he’s keen as to get out there. We’re lucky we’ve got good depth in that position and we expect him to go well.”
Ospreys have also flown the nest
Seven Ospreys players have been named in the Wales side to play Scotland on Saturday, so they are not missing quite as many frontline players, but Rennie says that he is unconcerned about the political machinations of which team has been hit hardest.
“You’ve got to play someone don’t you and I’m not sure how the draw’s done, but obviously with Scotland and Wales having an additional game it’s going to have a bit of impact,” he reflected. “It is what it is. Generally, the Scottish and Italian sides are hurt most because you’ve got two sides providing the national team, while Wales and Ireland are not hurt quite as much with four sides, but we haven’t talked at any stage this week about who’s missing, our focus is on who’s here.”
The focus, instead, is on building on a positive performance but, ultimately, disappointing result at Munster last weekend.
“We’re really happy with the way we went last week, we did a lot of good stuff and should have won that game, but we didn’t, so we’ve got to look at the part we played in that and learn from it,” concluded Rennie.
“It’s a big thing that we’re not looking for excuses. We’re going to put a good side on the field and if we play with the right intensity and are clinical then we put ourselves in good shape to win. They’re all important [matches] and obviously the Ospreys won’t be at full strength, the same as us, but they’re having a good season and it’s a big game for both clubs.
Glasgow Warriors (against Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium, Friday 2ndNovmeber, 7.35pm, live on Premier Sports 1): R Jackson; D van der Merwe, N Grigg, S McDowall, R Hughes; B Thomson, N Firsby; O Kebble, G Turner, D Rae, R Harley, S Cummings, A Ashe, C Gibbins (c), T Tameilau. Subs: G Stewart, J Bhatti, A Nicol, K McDonald, M Smith, P Kelly, N Matawalu.
Ospreys: D Evans; H Dirksen, C Allen, T Thomas-Wheeler, K Giles; S Davies, T Habberfield; R Jones, S Otten, M Fia, L Ashley, J King, O Cracknell (c), W Jones, R McCusker. Subs : S Parry, G Thomas, T Botha, J Ratti, G Volpo, M Aubrey, J Hook, T Williams.
Unavailable Warriors players –
Injured: Zander Fagerson (ankle), Siua Halanukanuka (foot), Stuart Hogg (ankle), Sam Johnson (knee), Lelia Masaga (back) and Tim Swinson (lower limb).
International duty: Alex Allan (Scotland), Fraser Brown (Scotland), Alex Dunbar (Scotland), Matt Fagerson (Scotland), Jonny Gray (Scotland), Adam Hastings (Scotland), George Horne (Scotland), Pete Horne (Scotland), Huw Jones (Scotland), Lee Jones (Scotland), Greg Peterson (USA), Ali Price (Scotland), Tommy Seymour (Scotland) and Ryan Wilson (Scotland).