Whilst having 17 players away on World Cup duty – more than any other team in the Pro14 – has undoubtedly put a strain on the Glasgow Warriors squad during the first month of this season, the general consensus among the coaching staff is that it has been a valuable exercise in terms of growing the depth of the squad.
Second-row Kiran McDonald, perhaps more than any other squad member, has grabbed the opportunity with both hands. After missing the team’s opening weekend defeat away to the Cheetahs, he played the full 80 minutes in round two at home to the Scarlets, when he had more carries than any other member of the Warriors squad (12), made the equal most tackles (11) alongside openside flanker Callum Gibbins, and was a key man at the line-out.
The following week, he played 72 minutes as Warriors picked up their first win of the campaign, and his 14 carries were joint second most in the team (alongside Matt Fagerson and behind only Gibbins), while his 11 tackles were equalled only by centre Nick Grigg. His line-out play was once again on point, and when he left the field, he was treated to a standing ovation by the Scotstoun faithful.
“It’s such an amazing feeling to come off and the crowd are right there in front of you waiting for you,” he smiled, when reflecting on that moment.
“You don’t really think about it until afterwards when you’re walking back inside and maybe doing some analysis. There’s always things to improve on and fix, but it was certainly a really good feeling for me personally to play like that, put in a shift, and to get that reception from the fans at the end.”
McDonald is not a new face in the Warriors squad. This is his third year as a full-time pro at the club, and before that he had a spell as an academy member, but a combination of injuries and ferocious competition for places means he has struggled so far to establish himself as a front-liner.
“I had a run in the team early last season but then unfortunately picked up a hand injury,” he reflects. “At a club like Glasgow, the calibre of the players is so high – especially in the second-row – and when I came back from injury a lot of guys were on form, which unfortunately meant I wasn’t able to put a marker down again to get back into the team.”
At the age of 24, time is still on McDonald’s side, and having watched his second-row compadre and good friend Scott Cummings go from struggling to get game-time at Warriors to being one of the few out-and-out success stories of Scotland’s World Cup campaign inside the space of six months has reinforced his belief that opportunities will come if you work hard enough.
“Young guys don’t get forgotten at this club,” says McDonald. “If you’re training well and performing well, then the coaches will look at you more seriously every week.
“Scotty is a role model to me. I’ve known him for a fair few years now. If I can get into the same position as him in that short space of time, then that would be amazing.”
He is 6ft 6ins tall, weighs just over 17 stone and is a hell of an athlete, so all the ingredients are there for McDonald to push on for international honours. He just needs to stay injury-free, keep getting game time for Glasgow and keep putting himself about in both the tight and loose.
With Cummings and Jonny Gray set to return soon, competition for places is about to intensify, so he knows it is vital that he carries last week’s form into this coming weekend’s outing against the Dragons at Rodney Parade.
“It’s been good to get a run of games and we got a win last time out, so we’ve a nice bit of momentum,” he concludes. “For me, it’s just about keeping my momentum going and, hopefully, getting another start.”