Glasgow unleash Leone Nakarawa in flanker role for must-win clash with Sale
The Fiji star’s return to the club he helped win a Pro12 title in 2015 was confirmed on 2 January and, after a few weeks of bedding back in following his sacking by Racing 92 last year, he has been handed a starting jersey by coach Dave Rennie.
“He has looked good actually,” said Rennie, below. “He has been very good at picking up instructions and stuff and was close for last week [the 31-31 draw against Exeter Chiefs at Scotstoun].
“We will have an indication of where his lungs are at during the game. He picks things up quickly and has looked good out there.”
Normally a No 8 or second row, the No 6 jersey will be unfamiliar to the offload king but Rennie hinted that will be a temporary position.
“Because we have Bruce Flockhart (back) and Matt Fagerson (rib) injured we needed a ball carrying player in that role and that is why Leone is selected there.
“He could well play as a loose forward but obviously we will be minus a couple of locks during the Six Nations so you may well find him up there.”
Aki Seiuli comes in at loosehead, while Ryan Wilson shifts from the blindside to No 8 and assumes the captaincy in the absence of suspended co-skipper Callum Gibbins, as Tom Gordon caps a week that saw a first-ever Scotland call-up by joining the Nakarawa on the flanks.
Ali Price returns at scrum-half in place of George Horne and club record tryscorer DTH van der Merwe is back to start on the wing after injury.
Glasgow are the worst-placed of the five second-placed teams heading into the weekend. Hopes of remaining in the competition look slim, but are not dead.
“We are aware of what we need to do but we are not really talking about having to score four tries. We have just got to go out and apply pressure and let the scoreboard take care of itself,” said Rennie.
“We know how tough it will be against Sale. They are a really good side and tough to beat at home. Leone brings us a point of difference and keeping the ball alive and taking on defenders will be important.
“He has loved it. You can see by the way he is training that he is enjoying it. Having a lot of laughs inbetween. He has a lot of good mates here and a few Fijian boys and a lot of men who were here when he was here last time. He has slotted in seamlessly.”
While Scotland call-up Gordon gets another chance to impress, it is the other side of the coin for captain Wilson, who was left out of Gregor Townsend’s 38-man Six Nations squad this week.
“It’s never easy for the guys who miss out but I think he saw the writing on the wall,” said Rennie. “He has played I think ten in a row and is probably playing the best footy I have seen in the time I have been here – maybe that is because he has had a lot of games on end.
“He is an excellent lineout forward and is leading from the front. He’s disappointed but there are always going to be injuries and maybe opportunities for him, that’s his mindset.”
Sale are well gone in this competition but Rennie is taking nothing for granted. “They sent a young squad away last week to La Rochelle and rested a lot of the big boys. We know they play Exeter [in England’s Gallagher Premiership] next week… We expect them to go full throttle. It is going to depend on other results, we will be cheering for a lot of French clubs this weekend.”
The battle for the No 9 jersey, which is about to be replicated at international level, continues.
“They [Price and Horne] are going to share the load, we are fortunate to have a couple of great nines; we are keeping them both on edge,” said the coach. “ They bring similar skill sets to the game, their roles are reversed. We do like George coming off the bench with 20 or 30 to go against tiring defences, so that is the way we have gone this week.”