Ayr’s McAlpine scales the heights

Ayr's Rob McAlpine will play for Glasgow Warriors against Zebre tomorrow. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS/SRU
Ayr's Rob McAlpine will play for Glasgow Warriors against Zebre tomorrow. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS/SRU
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Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend revealed that Scott Cummings and Greg Peterson both underwent shoulder surgery last week... which was great news for Ayr lock Rob McAlpine.

Glasgow are hopeful of getting Tim Swinson in harness for the visit of Leicester next weekend but until that happens Townsend has been forced to dip into the BT Premiership, where he has pulled out McAlpine. The lock makes his first start for Glasgow this afternoon after coming off the bench last weekend.

At 6ft 7ins tall and 18 ½ stones, McAlpine is undoubtedly the right size to lock the Glasgow scrum. What’s more he comes with a pedigree, having turned out in Edinburgh colours on a handful of occasions a few years back. Now aged 25, McAlpine has been given a second opportunity to show what he can do in the professional ranks.

Townsend fills in a few blanks: “He was involved in the Glasgow academy before I got here and went to the Edinburgh academy and became an Edinburgh player and played about ten times for them.

“He did not get his contract renewed with Edinburgh then went to Ayr. He is a player I was always keeping an eye on. He played for us a couple of times in “A” games.

“Until this season we had been pretty good in the second row with players avoiding injury. We have had a lot of second rows. This is an opportunity for him. We were delighted he was able to train with us last week, play and he will be involved with us for a period now. The positive thing for us is that he is 25 and not a 20 year old coming in; physically he really helps with our set-piece.”

McAlpine’s call-up offers another newbie a dive into the deep end, Callum Hunter-Hill starting on the Glasgow bench having only ever appeared in a pre-season friendly to date.

McAlpine is partnered by Rob Harley in the Warriors’ engine room, Jonny Gray gets a break after five games on the bounce but in truth the entire team has a make-do-and-mend feel to it with Townsend keeping players fresh for Leicester’s arrival in the Champions Cup opener next Friday.

Mark Bennett and Alex Dunbar sit this one out with Sam Johnson and Nick Grigg starting in the centres. Sean Lamont and Lee Jones fill the flanks and Peter Murchie continues at fullback with Stuart Hogg on the bench.

Ali Price partners Rory Clegg at halfback and former All Black Corey Flynn starts between twin props Gordon Reid and Sila Puafisi.

Only in the third row of the scrum, Josh Strauss, Fraser Brown and skipper Ryan Wilson might Townsend have selected the strongest unit available to him – not that he was ever going to admit as much.

“It is the managing of resources,” was how the coach presented his selection. “It is great we have those guys back in the pack. Hogg and Sarto will be involved off the bench. We have strength in depth. Sam Johnson has been in terrific form. I saw him and Nick play for Stirling against Melrose and he has not been selected for last two weeks so we are keen to see him play.

“Both Mark (Bennett) and Alex (Dunbar) are not playing this week. If anybody had a niggle we made the decision to get it right.”

Zebre are not the strongest of opponents, but Townsend argues they are not nearly as bad as their critics would have you believe. They lost to the Blues by a meagre two-point margin and they were well ahead against Connacht when that match was abandoned.

“They are a much better team at home and will be smarting they did not get the Connacht game completed,” said the Glasgow boss.

“We will have to play really well. We were losing at half-time (last season) but then things clicked. We have to work hard for 80 minutes. If you are inaccurate you will leak tries.”

Zebre must be mighty inaccurate because they have already leaked 19 tries in just four matches and they should leak a few more this afternoon if Glasgow play anywhere near their potential.