Glasgow coach Townsend to gamble against Zebre
GLASGOW coach Gregor Townsend has taken the first significant gamble of his tenure by making 13 changes to the side that clinched a first home win of the season.
Buoyed by victories at the Ospreys and over Connacht last week at Scotstoun, Townsend is using the visit of Italian strugglers Zebre to completely rest half of his regular starting line-up and also introduce a clutch of new signings. Josh Strauss, Niko Matawalu and Ofa Fainga’anuku all arrived at the club at the end of last week and have been pressed straight into action as the coaches strive to get them to match fitness as soon as possible.
Strauss will start Friday’s match at No 8, with Fiji scrum-half Matawalu and Tonga prop Fainga’anuku primed for Warriors debuts off the bench. There will also be league debuts for South African centre Byron McGuigan, Fraser Thomson and Sean Kennedy in the backs and former All Black Angus Macdonald in the back row, while Graeme Morrison returns to the No 12 jersey and Stuart Hogg makes his first appearance of the season on the bench after recovering from an ankle injury.
Of the 15 who started against Connacht, Peter Murchie, Sean Lamont, Alex Dunbar, Henry Pyrgos, Ryan Grant, Al Kellock and John Barclay are among those given a week off.
Townsend acknowledged that there were risks in starting so many new players at once, but insisted that it was necessary for strengthening the squad depth.
Asked if 13 changes represented a gamble, he said: “We’ll see after the weekend but I believe that these players on form who have been knocking on the door will grab their opportunity.
“It’s a team that I believe we can win the game with. We know we have to play anything between 40 and 50 players throughout the season. We have a squad of 51 players now. The number 51 sticks in my mind because that’s how many players Leinster used in reaching two finals last season, so I know it’s going to be a massive squad effort this year.”
Townsend has left two of his senior squad out of his first Heineken Cup list, Troy Nathan and Taylor Paris but called in former Edinburgh hooker Fraser Brown, currently with Heriot’s, as cover for the injured Pat MacArthur. Injured trio Chris Cusiter, Rob Harley and Rory Lamont are in, but the quartet of MacArthur, Murray McConnell, Jon Welsh and Ed Kalman, also injured, are not, and neither are the 11 Elite Development Players, including full-back Thomson.
Against Zebre tomorrow night, the team will be led by flanker Chris Fusaro, the openside having made a big impression on Gregor Townsend this season with his on-field play but also his attitude off the park.
Stand-off Ruaridh Jackson returns to the side after a shot off the bench last week was followed the next day by 60 minutes for Ayr in their win over Melrose at the Greenyards. Duncan Weir is still a week away from returning from injury and, with Hogg and Peter Horne on the bench, Townsend has opted for no other stand-off cover.
Winless Zebre are also handing opportunities to young players but retain a spine of experience with Australian Daniel Halangahu moving from centre to full-back, Samoan Sinoti Sinoti, who scored against Edinburgh, now on the wing and skipper Gonzalo Garcia at centre. Luciano Orquera is at stand-off and Mauro Bergamasco and there is a trio of South Africans in the pack – lock Quintin Geldenhuys joined by Michael Van Vuren, who makes his debut, and Andries Van Schalkwyk at No 8.
Townsend is not quite sure what to expect from either side, but remains confident his will excite the Scotstoun support.
He added: “With the three new players coming into the squad this week, my expectations are not as high as they would be for players who have been with us all season, as there will be new combinations and new plays for them to get used to. But we have a guy who’s won the Currie Cup, someone who’s played for the All Blacks and then our captain, Chris Fusaro, so I’m very excited about the back row and, while I’m not expecting everything to be totally fluent, he [scrum-half Matawalu] is looking sharp and he is loving the weather!”
“With a Fijian, All Black and South African there, they will all bring their own experiences.”
The key for Warriors supporters is that the experiences prove telling in their first games in Glasgow jerseys.
Glasgow team v Zebre at Scotstoun tomorrow, kick-off 7:35pm
15 Fraser Thomson, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Byron McGuigan, 12 Graeme Morrison, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Ruaridh Jackson, 9 Sean Kennedy, 1 Gordon Reid, 2 Finlay Gillies, 3 Mike Cusack, 4 Tom Ryder, 5 Tim Swinson, 6 Angus Macdonald, 7 Chris Fusaro (Capt), 8 Josh Strauss
16 Dougie Hall, 17 Ofa Fainga’anuku, 18 Moray Low, 19 James Eddie, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 Niko Matawalu, 22 Peter Horne, 23 Stuart Hogg.
15 Daniel Halangahu, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Matteo Pratichetti, 12 Gonzalo Garcia (Capt), 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Alberto Chillon, 8 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Filippo Cristiano, 5 Michael Van Vuren, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Luca Redolfini, 2 Davide Giazzon, 1 Matias Aguero. Subs: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Carlo Fazzari, 18 Andrea De Marchi, 19 Emiliano Caffini, 20 Nicola Belardo, 21 Luca Martinelli, 22 Paolo Buso, 23 Samuele Pace.