Franco Smith era begins at Glasgow Warriors in unlikely setting against unlikely opponents

A new era begins for Glasgow Warriors in an unlikely setting against unlikely opponents.

Franco Smith, the former coach of Italy, will be at the helm for the first time as the Scotstoun side begin their pre-season programme by taking on the Ayrshire Bulls at the home of Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

The Bulls stepped in at the 11th hour when original opponents Worcester Warriors pulled out after their players and staff went unpaid. The English club’s future remains in grave doubt.

Smith is grateful to the Super6 club for joining them in the Highlands but acknowledged that the late change was “disruptive and disappointing”.

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“It is a bit of a disappointment in that I think it would have been a real challenge straight up [against Worcester] but we still have to work on our objectives so at least we have another opposition to play against,” Smith said.

Glasgow are playing the match in Inverness as part of Highland RFC’s centenary celebrations and are also keen to spread the gospel of pro rugby in the north of Scotland, an area that has been underrepresented since the demise of the Caledonia Reds in the late 1990s.

Smith, who took over in the summer after Danny Wilson’s two-year reign was terminated, has hinted that he favours a more attacking style which would certainly please the club’s supporters whose patience was stretched to breaking point by the disappointing end to last season.

The former Springbok spoke on Thursday of getting the five main principles right: attack, objectives around the breakdown, defence, ability in contact and set piece. Hardly revelatory but Smith is looking forward to seeing his players in action for the first time.

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Walter Fifita will start on the wing for Glasgow Warriors. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

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His first team selection sees two new faces in the back row, with South African Sintu Manjezi starting at blindside and Tongan international Sione Vailanu at No 8.

With Ross Thompson missing after back surgery Domingo Miotti gets the nod at stand-off where he is partnered by scrum-half George Horne.

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Walter Fifita gets a rare start and Smith has challenged the Tongan winger to make the most of it.

New Glasgow Warriors head coach Franco Smith will take charge of the club for the first time against Ayrshire Bulls. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

“I hope he uses this opportunity to his best,” said the coach. “We’ve liberated him - like I hope every player who will play tomorrow night - from any doubt. He’s just got to go out there and show his worth.”

The players who featured for Scotland in the summer Test series in Argentina will not play in Inverness and Smith would not say if they would return for next Friday’s friendly, at home to Ulster.

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“I don’t want to say no, but we have a specific pre-season plan for them,” he said. “They have a long season ahead, with important internationals to be played in November then the Six Nations in the build-up to the World Cup, so they need a proper pre-season.”

The 15-strong bench is a real mix, with Fraser Brown, Ryan Wilson, Jack Dempsey and Sebastian Cancelliere rubbing shoulders with academy players Euan Ferrie, Ben Afshar, Ross McKnight and Andy Stirrat.

Glasgow have also included two Ayrshire Bulls players among their subs which seems a little harsh on opponents already up against it but Cam Jones and Will Hunt have both been training with the Warriors during pre-season.

Kyle Steyn, Glasgow’s new captain, starts on the wing.

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