ALEX Dunbar has handed Glasgow a huge boost by pronouncing himself fit for the start of the Guinness PRO12 campaign.
The strong-running centre had torn a hip flexor in the PRO12 Final defeat by Leinster back in May, which forced him to undergo a frustrating summer of rehab when he had hoped to be starring on the Scotland summer tour.
But the 24-year-old made his return to the field of play with a powerful performance in Saturday’s 38-19 dispatch of London Scottish at the Richmond Athletic Ground, as Warriors completed their pre-season build-up.
Now with Glasgow opening their league campaign in a mouth-watering reprise of last term’s finale against a Leinster side shorn of the talismanic presence of Brian O’Driscoll, Dunbar says he is once more ready to meet the call to arms for Warriors.
“It was great to get the run-out against Scottish.
“I had torn my hip flexor after 55 minutes of the PRO12 final at a ruck and I knew straight away it was a bad one,” admitted Dunbar.
He continued: “As it turned out, I missed the Scotland summer tour and it’s taken me 12 weeks to rehab the injury with some very intense physio, but I got the start against the Exiles and came through with no reaction, trained again yesterday and I’m fine. So I’m good for Saturday and I’ll just have to wait and see if I’m selected.”
While Dunbar’s partnership with Peter Horne was perhaps perceived to be the pre-eminent centre combination at Scotstoun last term, the injection of battle-hardened nous caused by the arrival of former Munster back James Downey has intensified the competition to start on Saturday at the heart of the Warriors backline.
Throw in Mark Bennett, Richie Vernon and even Sean Lamont and Dunbar’s claim that no one is guaranteed a start is only too graphically illustrated.
“We have tremendous strength in depth at centre and right across the backs. Obviously James Downey has come in from Munster to add to that competition and he has huge experience at the top level in European rugby which will benefit us,” said the softly spoken centre.
Dunbar continued: “In training, the way the boys have slotted in and out of the combinations and the variety, in terms of the strengths each one of us have, really complements well.
“When the competition is so strong it can only benefit a team and it means that no one has the comfort zone of a guaranteed start.”
The champions maybe about to start their post-Bod era but Dunbar is dismissive about any suggestions that they will lack for leadership on Saturday at Scotstoun.
He said: “Leinster may have lost Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen to retirement but I don’t see that as an issue for them.
“They have leaders all across the park and established internationals like Gordon D’arcy and Zane Kirchner, to name but two.
“So I think that whatever XV they put out, it will be packed full of internationals as usual and full of quality and we will have to be at our best to beat them.”
Yet the hurtful memory of that PRO12 final defeat still clearly lingers in Dunbar’s consciousness.
“Obviously we have lost to Leinster in two play-off semis and then the final last season and that hurts but we have to use that as a motivation,” he said.
He added: “If we want to beat them then we must make sure that we do the basics to the best of our ability and make sure that there are no periods when we switch off. That happened in the final and it cost us dear. On Saturday, we need to stay completely focussed for the full 80 minutes.”
As such, the Scotland international is hoping that the throaty roar of a full Scotstoun house can help get Glasgow off to a winning start.
Dunbar said: “The last time we were at home was the play-off semi-final with Munster and it was a sell-out of 10,000 and the fans really gave us a lift. So, hopefully, this Saturday will be along the same lines.
“But we had great support for the whole of the campaign the last time around and it gives us a lift when we are arriving at Scotstoun and already there are fans in the car park milling around and wishing you ‘all the best’.
“If we can get the same level of backing we got for that semi with Munster this weekend then it can make a difference to us.”
Meanwhile, Warriors assistant head coach Shade Munro has admitted that Dunbar’s return to full fitness in time for the first game has been a huge and unexpected bonus.
He said: “It is a massive plus to have Alex back at this stage and he is definitely ahead of schedule.
“Initially, Alex was not expected to be back for the beginning of the season.
“Alex has played a lot of rugby and the way he has recovered from the hip flexor injury means that he will have had a bit of a rest in terms of playing on summer tours.
“He was maybe a bit rusty early on against Scottish but, as the game went on, he got better and better and he finished it as one of our best performers.
“So it’s a big plus to have him back, fit and available for the start of the campaign.”