STUART Hogg will finish the year without having the desired crack at Australia that was denied him on the British and Irish Lions tour, but the full-back will at least be back on the field after being named in Glasgow’s team for Friday’s return to RaboDirect Pro12 action.
Hogg suffered a wrist injury in early October, which ruled him out of contention for the autumn Test series, but he has made a good recovery and provides a boost to a Warriors side eager to get back to league business and kick-start their title campaign with victory over the Newport Gwent Dragons at Scotstoun tonight.
Hogg will be in his familiar No 15 jersey, but there is a new face at inside centre with 21-year-old Finn Russell handed his first start for the club. He is joined by a familiar face in an unfamiliar position, DTH van der Merwe being asked to take on the outside centre role he has filled with Canada on occasion.
Byron McGuigan shifts out to the wing with Niko Matawalu on the other flank as coach Gregor Townsend bids to maximise his resources, and stand-off Scott Wight teams up again with Henry Pyrgos at half-back.
Released by Scotland, Alastair Kellock is back to captain the side and flanker Chris Fusaro may wish he was not at Scotstoun, and instead at Murrayfield, but Scotland coach Scott Johnson made it clear this week that his best route to a cap lies with more consistent displays in the Glasgow jersey.
He is joined by Rob Harley and Richie Vernon in a strong back row, while Tom Ryder, who made his Scotland debut last year, is finally given the chance to play his way back into regular contention with only his second consecutive start of the season.
Townsend said: “After a two-week break we’re all really looking forward to getting back to playing rugby again. We’re
delighted to welcome Stuart back from injury, especially with a number of players away on international duty. It is also an opportunity for other members of the squad to put their hands up for selection over the coming weeks.
“Finn has been working really hard in training and deserves the opportunity. We received impressive reports about him during his four-month spell playing rugby in New Zealand over the summer and he’s been a consistent performer for Ayr this season.”
The Dragons started well this season at home, winning their first three games, but have lost every game away and also lost last time out to Leinster at Rodney Parade.
They sit seventh on 14 points with Glasgow now tucked into second, a point behind Munster, after winning away to Connacht earlier this month but failing to break their four-try bonus duck.
They are captained tonight by Kellock’s former Welsh rival Rob Sidoli who is joined in the second row by Cory Hill.
Owen Evans, Sam Parry and international prop Francisco Chaparro make up the front row with Lewis Evans moving to blindside flanker, alongside Nic Cudd and the familiar face of former Edinburgh No 8 Netani Talei.
Pat Leach is back at centre after an elbow injury alongside recently signed Ross Wardle, while Jason Tovey returns to the stand-off position and another ex-Edinburgh man, Richie Rees, is back at scrum-half.
Townsend added: “The Dragons have started the season well and I believe they’ve performed much better than their league position suggests.
“We’re under no illusions as to how difficult this game will be.”
Tickets are still available for tonight’s game from www.glasgowwarriors.org or by calling the ticket office on 0844 800 3490 (9am-5pm). The ticket office at Scotstoun Stadium will be open from 10am.