FOR Al Kellock, Glasgow’s opening match of the Guinness Pro12 campaign against champions Leinster at Scotstoun tomorrow will provide moments of reflection and renewal.
The Warriors’ skipper will miss the highly anticipated clash with Matt O’Connor’s men as he continues his recovery from summer shoulder surgery.
Yet Glasgow will not be completely shorn of Kellock’s talismanic leadership as the lock is almost certain to be seen imparting pearls of wisdom while dispensing water bottles to his brothers-in-arm at opportune moments. But Kellock, for whom the impending campaign will be a record-breaking ninth as skipper, is clearly confident that the new leadership group being groomed at Scotstoun by head coach Gregor Townsend has both the nous and the backbone to stiffen the Warriors’ resolve in his absence.
While Kellock’s protege Jonny Gray has joined this elite group and, undoubtedly, will one day succeed his mentor, the captain tomorrow will be either back-row Josh Strauss, scrum-half Henry Pyrgos or openside flanker Chris Fusaro.
Kellock said: “To be named captain of Glasgow for the ninth season in-a-row is a massive honour and one I am very proud of and it goes without saying that I am hugely frustrated to be missing out on the start of the season.
“But injuries are part and parcel of rugby and what is really important for Glasgow is that we have a leadership group within which there are guys who are all very well suited to leading Glasgow out. At different times last season Josh, Henry and Chris all captained Glasgow and did a fine job.
“Henry is perhaps the most vocal, and that goes with being a nine, while Josh and Chris are big figures in our pack and really lead by example.
“From a personal point of view, of course I will be very frustrated, but some of that will be offset by the knowledge that whoever captain’s Glasgow will do a first rate job of it.
Glasgow lost out to tomorrow’s opponents in the Pro12 final at the end of last season and Kellock added: “After going so close, we feel that we have unfinished business with the league and a great platform to build-on, being part of all that is a huge motivation for me.”
The 33-year-old may hold the all-time Pro12 record for the most appearances as captain of any team, with 95, but when he is fit again, the competition for a second-row will be fierce.
With Gray, fellow Scotland internationals Tim Swinson and Tom Ryde,r and giant Fijian lock Leone Nakarawa all desperate to claim a starting berth, Kellock knows there will be no room for sentiment.
He said: “I know, even more so as I am coming back from injury, that, if I am not able to produce the goods, then there will be no room for sentiment.
“The criteria for being picked for this Glasgow team is performance and, if I’m not playing to the standard required, then, with the level of competition we have, I will be on the sidelines and that is exactly how it should be.
“Jonny Gray has worked really hard over the summer and has added a couple of kilos of muscle and Tim Swinson and big Leone have had big summers with their countries and will be hungry to start as often as they can.
“With Tom Ryder also in there, we have never had such intensity of competition for the two positions at lock and throughout the team it is a similar story.”
“It will be really tough to sit out the opener with Leinster, especially since we owe them for the final last season, but we have tremendous depth in the second row.”
Yet the 6ft 8in lock remains confident that the cut-throat level of competition in the Warriors’ pack can also help force him back into Scotland contention when the Autumn Internationals come around.
A torn bicep meant Kellock missed out on the RBS Six Nations earlier this year before shoulder surgery saw him sidelined from the Scotland summer tour itinerary overseen by new head coach Vern Cotter for the first time.
But, even at 33, the battle -scarred Warriors’ leader is still desperate for more game time in the dark blue.
Kellock said: “First and foremost I know that I have to be doing it for Glasgow and, if I am, then, hopefully, that gives me the platform to challenge for a Scotland place.
“So the first target is to get back in the Glasgow team and build from there.”