GREGOR Townsend will come up against an old coaching mate in Pat Lam tonight, but there will be nothing warm about the manner in which Lam’s Connacht will bid to add to Glasgow’s woes.
This is where the Warriors’ strength in depth is again tested, a time when all teams give up most of their internationalists to prepare for autumn Tests and have to rely on fringe players. In truth, however, Townsend has ensured he has fewer ‘fringe players’ than most, by dint of rotating his squad throughout the opening ten weeks of the season.
So, even though he is without such star attractions as Sean Maitland, Tommy Seymour, Sean Lamont, Ruaridh Jackson and Henry Pyrgos in the back line, and forwards Ryan Grant, Pat MacArthur, Al Kellock and Tim Swinson there is a familiar look about the line-up.
And a new position for the effervescent Fijian Niko Matawalu. With Stuart Hogg and Peter Murchie injured and Maitland with Scotland, Matawalu is handed an opportunity to wreak his unique havoc from the full-back berth.
Chris Cusiter captains the side with Duncan Weir still alongside, DTH van der Merwe and Byron McGuigan add a South African flavour on the wings and Mark Bennet and Gabriel Ascarate remain in the centre.
Up front Dougie Hall makes his 150th appearance for the Warriors and, while supplanted in the Scotland set-up by his Glasgow apprentice MacArthur, he will be eager to prove that he has plenty of rugby left in him yet. That will apply too for Tom Ryder, back at lock with Jonny Gray, and a solid back row trio of Rob Harley, Chris Fusaro and Josh Strauss as those involved with Scotland’s autumn training squad knowing that their starting tonight probably rules out a start against Japan next Saturday. There is also a bit of pressure building on the side to steady the ship after their opening defeat of the season in Toulon and a more frustrating first league reverse, at home to Munster last week.
Townsend said: “We were all disappointed with the defeat to Munster last weekend and we’re determined to pick ourselves up for what will be another tough game tomorrow night.
“Connacht are playing very well under Pat Lam and came very close to beating Saracens and Leinster in recent weeks, so we know how difficult this game will be.”
Connacht are missing a core of players to injury and Ireland involvement, including Andrew Browne, Willie Faloon, Robbie Henshaw, John Muldoon, Miah Nikora and ex-Stormers centre Danie Poolman.
Still, however, Lam makes four changes to the side that were just pipped 16-13 by Leinster in front of 16,000 fans in Dublin. Dave McSharry is back in the starting line-up after ten months out injured and he has 20-year-old Darragh Leader alongside him in a new centre pairing.
Connacht’s leading try-scorer Fionn Carr is on the right wing, hooker Jason Harris-Wright starts and veteran tighthead Nathan White returns to the bench after a three-week absence due to injury, alongside ex-Glasgow lock Aly Muldowney, while the former Glasgow favourite Dan Parks is pulling the strings at fly-half.
Lam said: “It’s been a disruptive week with more players added to our ever-growing injury list... and Robbie Henshaw to the Ireland camp, which has meant we’ve had to dig deep as a group. But, on a positive note, it’s a big boost to have Jason and Nathan back in the squad.
“Glasgow are at the top end of the table and are a team who have been consistently improving the last number of years. I witnessed their last visit in May when I had first arrived here and they were an impressive outfit, and very clinical in beating us.
“But we have been building and building on the performances and fight of the last few weeks and are really looking forward to this clash.”
Winning in Connacht is never a straightforward assignment, especially against a hard-edged home pack with its unique mix of South Seas and Galway brawn in what is forecast to be wet and windy weather.
However, while we are not even at the halfway stage of the league campaign, this is a game Glasgow need to win if they are to harbour genuine hopes of lifting the Pro12 title.
Connacht: 15 G Duffy 14 F Carr 13 D Leader 12 D McSharry 11 M Healy 10 D Parks 9 K Marmion 1 B Wilkinson 2 J Harris-Wright 3 R Ah You 4 M Swift (capt) 5 C Clarke 6 M Fifita 7 J Heenan 8 G Naoupu Subs 16 D Heffernan 17 JP Cooney 18 N White 19 A Muldowney 20 M Kearney 21 P O’Donohoe 22 C Ronaldson 23 T O’Halloran
Glasgow: 15 N Matawalu 14 B McGuigan 13 M Bennett 12 G Ascarate 11 DTH van der Merwe 10 D Weir 9 C Cusiter (capt) 1 G Reid 2 D Hall 3 J Welsh 4 T Ryder 5 J Gray 6 R Harley 7 C Fusaro 8 J Strauss Subs 16 F Brown 17 M Low 18 E Kalman 19 R Vernon 2 L Nakarawa 21 T Holmes 22 S Wight 23 F Russell
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