GLASGOW WARRIORS are ready to crank things up another notch in their preparation for the start of the competitive season, with head coach Dave Rennie making 12 personnel changes to the starting side which racked 50 points when defeating Harlequins last weekend, ahead of taking on Northampton Saints in Franklin’s Gardens this evening.
Co-captains Ryan Wilson and Callum Gibbins come into the back-row; while loose-head prop Jamie Bhatti, hooker George Turner, flanker Rob Harley, scrum-half George Horne, stand-off Adam Hastings, outside-centre Alex Dunbar [who has been registering personal bests in training after an injury-ravaged couple of seasons], wingers Tommy Seymour and Niko Matawalu, and full-back Ruaridh Jackson, are among the internationalists who have been added to the starting team.
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“The plan always was to give game time to all the guys who have been training the last couple of months in the first game,” explained Rennie, after naming a 30-man squad for the trip to the East Midlands. “Now we are bringing some more guys in who we have managed a bit, who have come back from international duty and who have had a bit of extra time to get their head around things.
“We have a few more to potentially come back next week and a handful probably the week after that based on minor injuries and off-season operations.”
Among the key men still to come back into contention is full-back Stuart Hogg, centre Huw Jones, utility midfielder Peter Horne, hooker Fraser Brown and tight-head prop Zander Fagerson, meaning that competition for places is going to be ferocious during the opening few weeks of the Guinness PRO14, which kicks off next Saturday with a trip to Galway to take on Connacht.
Davidson adds depth
However, one area where Rennie was not particularly comfortable with the depth at his disposal as he looked ahead to the start of the season was the middle-row of the scrum, with a number of fairly long-term injuries prompting him to recruit former Scotland Under-20s cap Andrew Davidson on a two-month loan from Newcastle Falcons.
“Tim Swinson broke his leg against Canada and is out until December, Kiran McDonald did a ligament in his finger and is out until November and Brian Alainu’uese has had issues with his ankle and is probably out until at least round five [of the PRO14], so we are probably just one injury away from being under pressure there,” explained the coach.
“Dean Richards [Falcons head coach] was kind enough to allow him here on loan for a couple of months which gives us enough cover. We have only got him for eight weeks. There is not option to keep him beyond that time.”
Jonny Gray is fully fit but is being rested this week, meaning Davidson should get a chance to show what he can do off the bench against Saints.
“He has trained well [after arriving at the club on Monday] but it is not easy for the young man, he has had a lot of stuff to get his head around. He is keen to jump out there and make a bit of a statement,” Rennie added.
The issue of how Wilson and Gibbins will operate as co-captains was raised, prompting Rennie to explain that leadership of the side is spread across several players so he is not too concerned about establishing a set-in-stone pecking order.
“One of them will wear the armband to make it clearer for the referee – they don’t like too many people advising them throughout a game – we’ll just share out that duty. They and the other leaders have various responsibilities,” he shrugged.
“You’re talking rock-scissors-paper, really. We’ll chop and change the first couple of weeks but eventually we’ll have to rest Ryan, and we’ll have to rest Callum too. It will work itself out.”
Saints have also named a strong squad, with club and England captain Dylan Hartley due to make his first appearance of the season off the bench, while Courtney Lawes, James Haskell and Dan Biggar adding some serious stardust to the starting line-up.
Former Edinburgh midfielder Piers Francis is named at inside centre, with former Scotland Under-20s star Rory Hutchinson one position further out in the number 13 jersey.
“Realistically, Quins were missing a few last week, and obviously Paul Gustard has only been there a couple of months [as head coach]. Northampton had a good win last week, so it’s great from our perspective. They’ll be tough opposition, just what we need heading into our comp,” concluded Rennie.
Glasgow Warriors (v Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens, Friday, 7.30pm): R Jackson; T Seymour, A Dunbar, S Johnson, N Matawalu; A Hastings, G Horne; J Bhatti, G Turner, D Rae, S Cummings, G Peterson, R Harley, C Gibbins©, R Wilson©. Substitutes: K Bryce, G Stewart, A Allan, O Kebble, A Nicol, A Davidson, M Smith, A Ashe, N Frisby, B Thomson, P Kelly, N Grigg, R Nairn, D van der Merwe, R Hughes.
Northampton: A Tuala; K Pisi, R Hutchinson, P Francis, T Collins; D Biggar; C Reinach; A Waller©, J Fish, B Franks, D Ribbans, C Lawes, J Haskell, H Brüssow, T Harrison. Substitutes: M Haywood, D Hartley©, W Davis, F van Wyk, E Painter, A Ratuniyarawa, J Gibson, L Ludlam, M Eadie, A Mitchell, J Grayson, N Tuitavake, O Sleightholme.