GREGOR Townsend has stepped up Glasgow’s preparations for the new season by naming a stronger starting line-up for the final pre-season match at Exeter this afternoon.
Scott Wight keeps his place at stand-off, but with Henry Pyrgos alongside at half-back, Peter Murchie, Tommy Seymour and Byron McGuigan in the back three and Sean Lamont and Alex Dunbar being handed the centre jerseys, the back division takes on a more experienced and international look to that which ran Harlequins close at The Stoop last weekend.
Josh Strauss takes on the captaincy in a back row with newcomer Tyrone Holmes at openside and Rob Harley on the blind, Jonny Gray teams up with Tim Swinson this week in the boiler-house and Moray Low and Jon Welsh start either side of Fraser Brown in a trio that will be pushing for Scotland berths this season.
The bench provides an indication of the enviable strength in depth that has built up at the Warriors over the past season with Chris Cusiter now back from a whole year out of the game through injury and ready to press for a return to the starting line-up, alongside Scotland caps Richie Vernon, Pat Macarthur and Ed Kalman. Youngsters with strong international hopes this term either at A or full level, Mark Bennett, Chris Fusaro, Gordon Reid, Finn Russell and hooker Finlay Gillies, are also primed for a second-half run as are James Eddie, new Fijian forwards Jerry Yanuyanutawa and Leone Nakarawa and versatile Argentina back Gabriel Ascarate.
Townsend is keen to ensure he gives as many players as possible the chance to press their claims ahead of Friday’s opening RaboDirect Pro12 match at home to Cardiff, but he is also eager to gain revenge for the pre-season defeat by Exeter at Ayr a year ago and provide the confidence boost of a win before heading into the new season.
That will not be easy as Exeter again more than held their own in the Premiership last season, finishing sixth and qualifying for the Heineken Cup with 12 wins in 22 league games.
Townsend said: “They are a very well coached side, who will provide us with a tough test ahead of the new season kicking off next week. I’m sure this will be a very useful exercise for both teams, especially as we’re going to be facing each other in the Heineken Cup this season.
“We plan to use our whole bench and give all 28 players game time this weekend. We’re delighted to welcome Chris Cusiter and Finlay Gillies back into the squad. Both players have had a frustrating time with injury but have shown great dedication and professionalism in their rehabilitation.”
Exeter have so far in pre-season beaten the Scarlets 23-15 and hammered Andy Robinson’s Championship side Bristol 51-7 but, according to England back row Tom Johnson, who returned in the latter win after a seven-month injury lay-off, they expect a much tougher test this weekend.
“Glasgow are a first-class team who play in the Heineken Cup,” he said. “We expect them to play a bit more than Bristol did, so our defence will have to step up a gear. We know Glasgow will threaten us from all areas of the park.”