Stuart Hogg back for Glasgow but missing Huw Jones intrigues

Stuart Hogg is back in the Glasgow team after being sidelined with a hip injury. Picture: SNS/SRU.
Stuart Hogg is back in the Glasgow team after being sidelined with a hip injury. Picture: SNS/SRU.
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The star power of Stuart Hogg would mean his return to the side, even after a minor short-term hip injury, would normally be the main headline but Dave Rennie’s selection for tomorrow’s Heineken Champions Cup clash with Cardiff at Scotstoun provoked more questions about those who were missing.

No Huw Jones, fit but not considered. No Peter Horne, whose knee injury will now keep him out for “a couple of weeks, maybe fractionally longer”. No Jonny Gray, with a less serious shoulder injury.

Stand-off Adam Hastings is in the squad but dropped to the bench after a bad afternoon in Treviso last week continued a theme of poor post-autumn form and Brandon Thomson is handed the No 10 jersey for the biggest start of his Glasgow career.

Of all these strands, the one concerning Jones is the most intriguing. After seeming on the verge of a move to Leicester, it was confirmed on Christmas Day that the Scotland centre would be staying at Glasgow for another two years.

After picking up a rib knock in the first 1872 Cup loss to Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield in December, Jones hasn’t been seen since in a Glasgow jersey that Rennie fully accepts he hasn’t filled with the same stellar form he has a Scotland one.

“Yes I agree. There is a lot of competition for a centre spot here. He [Jones] has played reasonably well for us this year but we think Nick [Grigg] has played better,” was Rennie’s verdict.

Grigg partners Samuel Johnson in midfield tomorrow and, with Horne and Alex Dunbar both out injured and no specialist centre on the bench, the fact that Jones is not even on the bench is certainly likely to prompt some intrigue.

Less startling is the demotion of Hastings, who has hit a bumpy patch in his fledgling frontline pro career. It presents a big-game opportunity for 23-year-old South African Thomson, who was man of the match in the Pro14 win over Scarlets early last month before giving way with the return of the Scotland internationals.

He came off the bench at Benetton last week to replace 22-year-old Hastings and missed a late penalty as Glasgow slumped to their third defeat in a row, going down 20-17 in Treviso.

Rennie admitted Horne would have started at stand-off tomorrow before the extent of his injury became clear.

“He injured his knee against Edinburgh at home. We’ve had a scan since then to make sure it’s nothing too serious,” said the coach. “His anterior cruciate ligament and all that is fine. He’s probably going to miss a couple of weeks, maybe fractionally longer, but he’ll be back in time for the Six Nations.”

As for Hastings, Rennie said: “He understands there are consequences for maybe not performing as well as he had done earlier in the year. I don’t think it’s mental. At times he is probably trying too much, trying to do too much on his own.

“It’s about getting a bit of balance to his game. He’s a pretty confident kicker of a ball and he probably needs to give us more field position at times. He knows what he’s not doing well enough and he’s good enough to make shifts, but this weekend it’s going to be off the bench.”

As for lock Gray, Rennie reported: “We only made the decision to withdraw him this morning and he should be okay for next week.”

All those personnel matters aside, Rennie was keen to focus on the job at hand, as the Warriors seek a bonus-point win over the already-eliminated Welsh side that could take them to the cusp of the quarter-finals.

“Do you mean are we going to play the way we play? Yes,” said Rennie when asked if the need to take five points from this one would frame the strategy.

“We have not got a result the last few weeks but we have created a lot of opportunities. We go through every game with a fine tooth comb and there were areas where we were really sharp in the first part of the year. We have not done that recently. We will keep trying to do what we 
do, but better.”

Wales international wing Tom James will make his Cardiff comeback after taking a break from the game in late 2017 suffering from depression. Hooker Matthew Rees returns from a knee injury to skipper the visitors.

Rennie laughed off any suggestions there might be a repeat of the blue-on-blue colour clash which hit the reverse fixture back in October.

“We thought about doing the warm-up in our blue jerseys to cause a bit of a stir before kick-off. But we’re playing in black,” confirmed the Kiwi.