COMPETITION for places in the Glasgow team is already pretty intense and the timely return to full fitness of two international backs in the shape of Sean Lamont and Alex Dunbar can only add to Gregor Townsend’s headaches when it comes to selection for next weekend’s semi-final.
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Both players were included in today’s starting XV which faces Zebre in the final match of the regular season. A win would guarantee Glasgow home advantage in that semi-final but victory for the visitors would give Zebre a good chance of competing in the new Champions Cup next season and Townsend was wary of the Italians’ threat.
“Zebre beat Ospreys last week and they beat Edinburgh the week before,” said the Glasgow coach. “We have shown the players how much they have improved and how well they played against top five teams. They are a much improved side. They defend with more width and they are a good tackling team and they have a lot of confidence and motivation.”
The same can be said for Glasgow who could become the first Scottish pro-team to contest a home semi-final after being dumped out of the play-offs in previous visits to the Ospreys and Leinster (twice). Townsend pointed out that in four years of play-offs, no team had won a semi-final away from home.
For all his respect the Glasgow boss fields an experimental XV this evening with Leone Nakarawa lining up at No 8 for the first time. It should still prove too strong for the Italians but it does allow Townsend to rest some key players for bigger challenges ahead. The likes of Josh Strauss, Mark Bennett, Finn Russell, Chris Cusiter and Jonny Gray have all put in overtime cards in recent weeks and will benefit from spending this evening in the Scotstoun stands. In contrast there is one Glasgow player who is desperate to play. Peter Horne will make only his third start of the season for Glasgow after coming back in good time from an ugly knee injury which he collected while winning the second of his two caps last summer.
The surgeons grafted some of his hamstring into his right knee as a makeshift ligament and the midfielder only made his first start back for the Warriors in the game against Ulster three weeks back. He sat out the derby with Edinburgh as a precaution but he played the full 80 minutes against Treviso last weekend and he starts again this evening.
“I’m just delighted to be back in the mix,” Horne said. “If you’d offered me this a week after I did my knee last summer I’d have bitten your arm off. I’m really happy to be back in the mix, I feel I am getting back to some sort of form, it’s a brilliant thing to be involved in.
“We’re not under-estimating Zebre at all by any shape of the imagination. It’s going to be a massive game, we’ve studied them really hard, we’ve looked at all their players, we’ve looked at all their combinations. We’ve not left anything to chance so hopefully we can go out there tomorrow tonight and put in a performance.” Horne talks about the little goals he set himself on the path back to full fitness and how important his mental well-being was while his physical self was recuperating.
He took inspiration from some Glasgow colleagues who had suffered something similar… Lamont, Cusiter and Bennett…but also from some less likely sources such as the Minnesota Viking Adrian Peterson and the New York Knicks basketball star Imam Shumpert who, it turns out, is something of a hero to Horne.
As well as taking inspiration from others, Horne literally bent over double to do everything he could to help himself, including adopting an “anti-inflammatory diet” which sounds like something that the Geneva Convention would ban outright.
“Every morning I have a glass of turmeric, a tablespoon of that in some water. My insides must be yellow because the glass is minging,” Horne explains.
“I’ve been eating at least a thumb-sized piece of ginger every day. A glass of cayenne pepper in water and I eat loads of pineapple and I’ve been eating kale by the bucketful. I’ve been having a kale smoothie every day.
“The first time I did it I had a glass of tumeric and it was minging so I decided I would just put a tablespoon of that and a tablespoon of the pepper in my glass of water and then I shot it [down in one]. I thought, yeah, that’s much easier and about ten minutes later my stomach felt like it was going to explode. I was bent over, almost in tears, crawling around and thinking what have I done!?”
Up against that sort of dedication Zebre have it all to do. A victory of any sort will suffice for Glasgow and, if every player is feeling the same way as Horne, they should secure it.
“It’s getting to the end of the season and some boys have played a lot of rugby and it’s starting to tell but I am desperate to be back in the mix, I feel fresh as a daisy and it’s only really October time for me, so I am willing to take any minute I can!”
15. S Hogg
14. S Lamont
13. A Dunbar
12. P Horne
11. N Matawalu
10. D Weir
9. H Pyrgos
1. R Grant
2. P MacArthur
3. M Low
4. T Swinson
5. A Kellock (c)
6. J Eddie
7. C Fusaro
8. L Nakarawa
D Hall, J Yanuyanutawa, G Cross, R Harley, T Holmes, R Jackson, L Jones, P Murchie.