AL KELLOCK says he has no fears about playing in his second game in just five days as he marks his competitive return from injury by leading Glasgow out against Connacht in this evening’s Guinness Pro12 encounter at Scotstoun.
The Glasgow captain missed out on the opening three games of his side’s unbeaten start to the new campaign as he recovered from shoulder surgery. But now the 33-year-old will be pulling on the blue jersey for the first time in a competitive context since he led out the side in the Pro12 final defeat by Leinster back on 31 May in Dublin.
It will mean a second game in five days after Kellock turned in a rumbustious second-row performance for 60 minutes in the “A” match against Edinburgh at Bridgehaugh on Monday.
Yet the talismanic Glasgow skipper, whose only other outing on the comeback trail came for Glasgow Hawks in the BT Premiership at Gala a fortnight back, was dismissive about any suggestions that it may all prove a touch too much.
“Monday night was the first time I have pulled on a Glasgow jersey since the Pro12 final and it seems so long ago, yet it also just seems like yesterday. I am just so excited about being back,” Kellock said yesterday.
“I view the Hawks game and then the ‘A’ game as stepping stones though, and I have no fears that I am ready for tonight.
“To be honest, I could have been better for Hawks but I felt like I got a great 60 minutes in the ‘A’ game on Monday and I feel good. Now I know I am going to have to lift my standards once again.
“But this is my bread and butter and, such is the competition for places now at Glasgow, I know that if I don’t train well and am not fit enough, I won’t play. If I do play and am not good enough, I will not stay in the side. But I relish all of that and I am delighted with my preparation.”
The Warriors captain is also looking forward to renewing an old acquaintance. Kellock said: “I am really looking forward to teaming up with Tim Swinson again in the second-row. We played a lot of rugby together before these Gray brothers [Richie and Jonny] got in and hopefully the team will benefit from that tonight.
“But, in a second-row context, you look at Tom Ryder also coming back onto the bench for us and what young Adam Ashe can also contribute at the lineout. We are very well served.”
This evening’s encounter with Connacht comes with a top-of-the-table label attached to it as both Warriors and Pat Lam’s men are unbeaten, while Glasgow sit second and the Western Irish side occupy third spot.
“Connacht have been evolving a different style of late under Pat but the one thing you know when you play Connacht is that underpinning everything they do is a real physicality,” said Kellock.
“So their foundations are still the same as they have always been, and they will be again tonight, they are just very good at the breakdown.
“I also notice that much has been made of their fitness and the way that both Leinster and Edinburgh failed to score against them in the second half, but we also pride ourselves in our fitness and so it should be very interesting tonight.
“Maybe there is a slight surprise that this is a top-of-the-table encounter, but then six years ago we were finishing second bottom and have made a journey since then.
“Now Connacht are clearly doing the same.
“So we just have to make sure that our standards are very high and that we are prepared not to give an inch.”
Warriors head coach Gregor Townsend has made eight changes, both personnel and positional, to his starting XV, from the side that claimed a bonus point success at the Dragons last weekend.
Interestingly enough, for the second week Townsend has opted to go for a six, two forwards and backs split in the replacements.
Henry Pyrgos has replaced the injured Niko Matawalu at scrum-half, while James Downey and Mark Bennett start at centre for the first time and Sean Lamont comes in for Tommy Seymour on the right flank.
Up front, Pat MacArthur takes over from Kevin Bryce at hooker, while Kellock replaces Leone Nakarawa at lock and Chris Fusaro does likewise for the suspended Tyrone Holmes.
The quadriceps injury that has sidelined Josh Strauss means a debut competitive start for Adam Ashe at No 8, which is something head coach Gregor Townsend admitted is a huge chance for the ex-EDP player.
“Adam did not play a lot of rugby for us last season due to hamstring injuries but he had a great summer starting for Scotland against South Africa and, with Josh Strauss out, this is a big opportunity for him,” said Townsend.
He continued: “I am also looking forward to seeing how James Downey and Mark Bennett combine at centre and confident they will give us something different.
“James has huge experience and he has invaluable experience of playing against Connacht. He has brought a lot to us in training and I am sure will do so in a match context.
“He is a great ball-carrier and has an excellent short-ball passing game but defensively we will need him to be very solid.
“But with Connacht coming to Scotstoun on the back of a fine victory over Leinster, we know we will be tested to the full.”
Connacht have made five changes from the team that defeated Leinster.
Michael Swift has replaced Quinn Roux in the second row, tighthead Rodney Ah You and No 8 George Naoupu make their first starts of the season and Eoin McKeon moves to openside flanker.
Danie Poolman has recovered from the illness that forced him to withdraw last week to take his place on the right wing, while Matt Healy moves to the left.
Connacht’s close season signing from Ulster, Ian Porter, is named at scrum-half.
15 S Hogg
14 S Lamont
13 M Bennett
12 J Downey
11 DTH van der Merwe
10 Duncan Weir
9 H Pyrgos
1 G Reid
2 P MacArthur
3 E Murray
4 T Swinson
5 A Kellock (c)
6 R Harley
7 C Fusaro
8 A Ashe
16 K Bryce
17 J Yanuyanutawa
18 R de Klerk
19 Tom Ryder
20 J Eddie
21 M McConnell
22 F Russell
23 T Seymour
15 D Leader
14 D Poolman
13 R Henshaw
12 D McSharry
11 M Healy
10 J Carty
9 I Porter
1 D Buckley
2 D Heffernan
3 R Ah You
4 M Swift
5 A Muldowney
6 J Muldoon (c)
7 E McKeon
8 G Naou
16 S Delahunt
17 R Loughney
18 N White
19 Q Roux
20 M Kearney
21 J Cooney
22 C Ronaldson
23 F Carre