Dave Rennie loads up for final assault on Europe before Glasgow exit
Head coach Dave Rennie has gone fully loaded as he begins his third and final assault with Glasgow on Europe’s premier club competition, the Heineken Champions Cup, with Australian wing Ratu Tagive making his first European start.
“Obviously with the World Cup boys coming back in, we sort of planned about three or four weeks of selection, dictated by form and injury,” said Rennie. “We’re pretty happy with the team we’ve got together. We’re not too bad off from an injury point of view. It’s a pretty strong side.”
Big names such as Huw Jones and Niko Matawalu are neither in the squad, nor listed as injured, and simply not selected, as Rennie explained.
“That’s right. Huw has gone really well. His attack has been excellent but I have plumped with Nick [Grigg],” said the coach. “With Niko we are just trying to reward [Tagive] who has been excellent and deserves a crack. Niko has played really well since he came back so we are spoiled for choice there. Kyle [Steyn] can cover on the wing.”
It continues the malaise centre Jones has found himself in since his move to Glasgow from South Africa in 2017. The hero of the 2018 Calcutta Cup win, who enjoyed a stunning start to his Scotland career, has never quite found his feet at Scotstoun.
Glasgow’s most-capped player Rob Harley returns to the side to make his 218th appearance as he partners Scott Cummings in the second-row.
Club co-captains Callum Gibbins and Ryan Wilson start together on the flanks for the first time this season, the Kiwi openside taking the primary leadership role this weekend and Matt Fagerson continuing at No 8 to complete the back-row.
Grigg comes back into the side at outside centre, lining up outside fellow Scotland international Sam Johnson in midfield. Tommy Seymour continues at full-back in an unchanged back three, with DTH van der Merwe and Tagive starting on the wings.
Ali Price is in line to make his first appearance of the new season from the bench, following the foot injury sustained by the scrum-half at the recent Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Scotland centre Pete Horne also returns from injury into the matchday squad.
“[Nick Grigg] had a bit of a knee complaint the last couple of weeks and we’ve left him out,” continued Rennie. “It was a really tight decision between him and Huw, to be honest, but we’ve gone for strongest defensive pairing.
“We’ve got Kyle on the bench because he can obviously cover centre, but he also covers wing for us, so we’ve got more flexibility.”
Asked if there was an added incentive being it is his final season at Scotstoun, Rennie said: “Regardless of what’s happening with me, the game is all pretty well about the comp.
“We’ve had a scratchy start in [the Guinness Pro14], but the last two weeks we’ve been really good, so we’re building and we’ve got a lot of confidence. It’s nice to be playing the first one at home, but we’re well aware of the threat that Sale bring.”
At the tournament launch in Cardiff last week, Rennie said his hunch was that this weekend may be too soon for Price but he is named on the bench after being injured in that World Cup opening defeat by Ireland in Yokohama as George Horne continues in the No 9 jersey.
“George has played really well for us for the last couple of years, hasn’t he?” commented Rennie. “He had a really strong World Cup and he’s been excellent since he’s been back with us. Clearly he suits the type of game that we play, which is high pace, high skill. It’s important that he gets to the breakdown quickly and allows us to play our type of game. But Ali is very similar. We want to get a bit more rugby into Ali but he’s worked hard and he’s on the bench this week.”
Rennie has made no bones about how highly he rates the Heineken Champions Cup as a competition.
“It is tough,” he reiterated. “You have to beat the best 20 teams in Europe but we have worked really hard over the last couple of years.
“We have a better squad with a lot more depth in it and we have a pack that can compete in Europe. I thought we were really good in Europe last year and have a good understanding of the type of game we are trying to play. On our week we can knock anybody over.
“That has to be our mindset. We are playing against teams with much bigger budgets but it is 15 v 15 on the day… we have prepared well and are ready to go tomorrow.”