GLASGOW WARRIORS will have their first competitive outing this evening since their glorious vanquishing of Munster to lift the Guinness Pro12 crown just over three months ago. The only Scottish professional team to have lifted a trophy worth more than its value in scrap metal will entertain the Scarlets at their Scotstoun fortress, with a 5.15pm kick-off. In any other year, it would be a very good reason for some sort of celebratory carnival, allowing their loyal and growing fan-base to salute Gregor Townsend’s conquering heroes.
But this is not a normal year and, rather sadly, we are talking about a match which has been largely ignored this week by the Scottish rugby press and public, who have fixated instead on the make-up of Vern Cotter’s national squad for the imminent World Cup.
Not only are there potentially five valuable league points at stake, but there is also the small matter of getting to see how sharp Josh Strauss is looking, as he has been earmarked as key figure in Scotland’s World Cup dream, even though he is barred from representing his adopted homeland until the three-year residency restriction runs its course, four days before the Scots play their first World Cup match against Japan on 23 September.
The hirsute back-rower was involved in last weekend’s pre-season defeat to Canada and is looking sharp after a summer of intense preparation with Cotter’s squad, but tonight’s contest will be a big step up in terms of intensity, and Strauss will be highly aware of how important it is that he demonstrates his ability to impose his personality on a game when live ammunition is being fired.
Strauss is the only one of 16 Warriors players in the World Cup squad to have been released for this match, which means the strength in depth of the reigning champions’ squad is going to be seriously tested against a side that has lost seven players to the Welsh cause.
However, with a proven winner of the calibre of Rob Harley in the engine room and the indomitable grittiness of Chris Fusaro and Adam Ashe in the back row, the Warriors should have enough class to see off their Welsh foe.
Despite their World Cup commitments, the Warriors can still boast of having ten full internationals within their ranks tonight – adding ballast to the youthful exuberance of the likes of 18-year-old second-row Scott Cummings, who is making his first start for the club.
“Scarlets are a tough side and we know we’ll need to be at our best tomorrow night in order to start the season with a positive result,” said Townsend. “Scott has worked really hard during pre-season and has earned his start and Robbie [Fergusson] has also done really well over the last few weeks and could feature at some point. We have real depth to our squad and the World Cup period is an opportunity for players to show what they can do.”