Ali Price given Glasgow Warriors start but Franco Smith warns against reading too much into it

Ali Price during a Scotland Rugby training session at the Oriam, on January 24.Ali Price during a Scotland Rugby training session at the Oriam, on January 24.
Ali Price during a Scotland Rugby training session at the Oriam, on January 24.
Ali Price has been released from Scotland’s Six Nations training squad to play for Glasgow Warriors in their United Rugby Championship clash against the Dragons at Rodney Parade on Saturday afternoon.

While his involvement in this match does not automatically mean that he will miss out on next Saturday’s Six Nations opener against England, it does suggest that national team head coach Gregor Townsend has concerns about the player’s match readiness.

The scrum-half – who has been Scotland’s first choice No 9 since the retirement from international rugby Greg Laidlaw following the 2019 World Cup, and who played in the Test team for the Lions in 2021 – has found himself playing second-fiddle to George Horne at Warriors this season. Horne has not been released by Scotland for this game, which will be interpreted in some quarters as strong circumstantial evidence that he is set to start the Calcutta Cup match, or at least sit on the bench behind Ben White of London Irish, who is the other scrum-half in the squad.

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“We are obviously glad to have Ali with us,” said Warriors head coach Franco Smith South African. “It is not just about game time, it is about performing this week and I'm sure Ali will contribute. Obviously, George has led in many ways this season – he plays rapidly,” the South African added, before cautioning that people should read too much into Price’s availability. “There is a difference between Test match rugby and club rugby and Ali's experience in Test match rugby is second to none.

Five other players have been released by Scotland for this match. They are centre Stafford McDowall, who has been named captain, props Jamie Bhatti and Simon Berghan, hooker Fraser Brown and No 8 Jack Dempsey. “It is good to have Fraser back [after three weeks out with concussion],” said Smith. “He has not played for a bit so he will be fresh and ready to add some value, and Jack Dempsey was rested for a week so he will be raring to go.

Zander Fagerson, who is in the Scotland training squad and understood to be in the frame for next week’s Calcutta Cup match despite being side-lines since early December with a hamstring injury, has not been released to get some game-time.

“Tomorrow is an important game for us to finish this block of ten fixtures well,” added Smith. “The players we have selected are keen to pull on the Glasgow shirt, and we know that the Dragons at Rodney Parade are always a tough opponent. We know we will have to be at our best to meet their determination to keep Rodney Parade a fortress, as we know the Dragons are a proud team.

“We have made some huge strides and it has taken us six months since I took on the job to get 80 percent of the work done, so now we have an understanding of the plan but it is probably going to take us another six to twelve months to get the last 20 percent done because detail around everything is now the thing.

“We need to be better at space identification from an attack perspective, and also work on how we apply ourselves defensively now that everyone understands the system.

“We are inconsistent at the scrum, and we need a lot more understanding of roles in the maul and lineout. So, we are definitely not the complete product, and we want to make a step forward this week in that regard.”

Glasgow Warriors: J McKay; S Cancelliere, S McDowall ©, S Johnson, C Forbes; D Weir, A Price; J Bhatti, F Brown, S Berghan, L Bean, J du Preez, T Gordon, S Vailanu, J Dempsey. Substitutes: J Matthews, N McBeth, L Sordoni, A Samuel, E Ferrie, C Neild, J Dobie, T Jordan.

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Dragons: J Williams; J Rosser, S Tomkinson, J Dixon, A Hewitt; J Hanrahan, R Williams ©; R Jones, B Coghlan, L Fairbrother, M Screech, B Carter, G Nott, S Lonsdale, T Basham. Substitutes: J Benjamin, A Seiuli, C Coleman, H Taylor, B Fry, L Jones, S Davies, S Hughes

Referee: Frank Murphy (Ireland)