STUNG by a tame defeat to the Scarlets last time out in west Wales, Gregor Townsend has reacted by picking a strong squad to get Glasgow back on track against the Dragons tomorrow afternoon.
The Glasgow coach was reminding every journalist within earshot that one year ago exactly the unfancied Welsh club had emerged from Scotstoun with a good win under their belts. You can bet the last penny in your pocket that Townsend will have mentioned that fact to his players this week.
Jon Welsh comes into the starting XV for the first time this season and he is partnered by Ryan Grant and Fraser Brown in a front-row trio that looks the strongest available, notwithstanding the fact Mike Cusack will play club rugby for Currie today. That will be only his second game of rugby in a year and a half after a long illness.
Townsend may have one eye on next weekend’s European tie against Toulouse, which also falls on a Sunday meaning Euan Murray is unavailable for selection even assuming the groin injury he picked up against new Zealand has righted itself by then.
Welsh was Glasgow’s first choice tighthead at the end of last season. Since then, a shoulder operation, his second in three years, had held back his progress. With Scotland head coach Vern Cotter desperately in need of tightheads, Welsh has a golden opportunity to impress if, indeed, he is a tighthead specialist after being put to work on the left-hand side of the scrum against the Scarlets. “He has settled,” confirmed Townsend. “Last weekend he had to come on at loosehead because of the squad we put together but I think tighthead is his position. We know he’s played a lot of rugby at loosehead but he did really well at tighthead last year.”
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Tim Swinson is drafted into the second row in place of Tom Ryder and Leone Nakarawa brings his magic to the number six shirt alongside Ryan Wilson at eight and Chris Fusaro. Josh Strauss is a casualty of Glasgow’s tepid performance last weekend when the pack finished a distant second despite fielding six full Scotland caps.
“We were very disappointed by the fact we didn’t perform as well as we had expected, as well as we had prepared,” admitted Townsend. “We’d had a game the week before at training. We’d trained really hard those two weeks so it was disappointing. We had a strong squad down at Scarlets and didn’t play nearly as well as we can.
Mark Bennett is a long-term injury so Glasgow field a little and large double act in midfield with Peter Horne and Sean Lamont. Veteran centre Lamont is the only Scotland player who was widely used in the autumn tests who is being rushed back into action, which says something about his durability.
Peter Murchie keeps the No 15 shirt, while Lee Jones celebrates his contract extension with a gallop on the right flank and DTH van der Merwe is at number eleven. Niko Matawalu and Duncan Weir get a chance to strut their stuff at half-back.
At the back of everyone’s mind is the fact Townsend will sit down with his assistants on Monday and pick the team to play Toulouse in the European Rugby Champions Cup next weekend.
“It’s a huge opportunity,” said Townsend of tomorrow’s game. “It’s a very strong side. If players play well they will be in a strong position to start against Toulouse. Some Scotland players are coming back into the mix the following week but these guys have the jerseys and if they play well they have more chance of playing the following week.”
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