Glasgow Warriors braced for fierce Cheetahs test in Pro14 opener

Dave Rennie has been able to pick a fairly experienced Glasgow side for tonight’s match against the Cheetahs, at least bearing in mind that 16 of his players are absent on World Cup duty. But experience is one thing, match sharpness quite another, and the circumstances suggest that the Warriors will be tested to the limit by their Pro14 Conference A rivals.

Glasgow will be without a host of big names against Cheetahs but can still call upon the likes of Kyle Steyn. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS SRU

Glasgow have had two pre-season matches, both against Ulster. The second, at home, was a distinct improvement on the first match in Belfast, but there were still signs of summer rust.

In contrast, the Cheetahs have played eight games in their main domestic competition, the Currie Cup. Which they won. So not only will they be more physically prepared to get the new campaign under way, they are also sure to be in a very self-confident frame of mind.

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“We know it’s a big challenge,” Rennie acknowledged. “They’re the Currie Cup champions, they’ve got a team that’s been playing together for a lot of months and obviously they’ve got a lot of confidence. It’s pretty much the same team, same coaching group, and we’re playing them over here, so as far as round-one draws it’s about as tough as it can get in a World Cup year where they’re not missing anyone.

“But we’ve got a good side on the field, and as we always do we tend to focus more on who we’ve got rather than who we haven’t. And the preparation has been good. The couple of outings against Ulster were good for us, and we’ve 
prepared well over here.”

The Cheetahs have been capable of springing the odd surprise in their two Pro14 seasons to date, especially in their home fixtures, but have lacked consistency and structure. The signing of scrum-half Ruan Pienaar, formerly of Ulster, should change all that, and provided they can cope with the conditions on their travels in the European winter they should be in contention for a play-off place.

So, too, should Glasgow, the key question being how they will fare while so many of their big names are away. They have lost a dozen players to Scotland, with one of the 12, Ali Price, having been lost in turn to injury, while they are also without Siua Halanukonuka of Tonga, DTH van der Merwe of Canada and Fijian duo Mesu Dolokoto and Niko Matawalu.

But they won five games out of five without most of their internationals during last season’s Six Nations Championship, a sequence of victories which went a long way to winning the Conference. And the team for this game is not exactly devoid of ability or experience at the highest level. Rennie’s selection includes five players who were in the wider Scotland squad – Huw Jones, Nick Grigg, Kyle Steyn, Grant Stewart and Matt Fagerson – along with Tim Swinson, who trained with that group. Steyn began the Pro14 final loss to Leinster back in May, as did the back-row trio.