League champions Glasgow have just nine matches in which to salvage something from their season, the first of which takes place tonight against the Dragons in Newport in a game moved to avoiding clashing with Wales’ Six Nations encounter against France tomorrow. The Warriors squad offers a few clues to anyone trying to second guess Vern Cotter’s Scotland side for Saturday’s game with Italy.
Josh Strauss is a surprise starter at No 8 for the Warriors which rules him out of Rome. Conversely, Ryan Wilson’s absence from Gregor Townsend’s squad suggests that the flanker will likely be involved in the match-day 23 against Italy.
Duncan Weir’s appearance in Glasgow colours strongly suggests that Peter Horne will also be travelling to Rome. And it looks like twin props Moray Low and Rory Sutherland will be listed among the Scottish substitutes for Saturday’s big match since both Gordon Reid and Zander Fagerson are amongst the Glasgow replacements for tonight’s game.
“Delighted from our point of view,” was Townsend’s response to the returning internationals, “obviously disappointed for them. I think for Zander and Gordon and Duncan, who have been in the [Scotland] squad, to not be in the squad [for Rome] is disappointing for them. And Josh, who played really well at the weekend, would have been in the mix but it shows the competition level in Scotland in those positions and we get the boost that they’re back.”
Some will be surprised that Strauss was overlooked in favour of Wilson who was not selected in Scotland’s original Six Nations squad, however his coach was not amongst them, insisting that the flanker was one of Glasgow’s best performers in January. Townsend further denied that the returning international contingent needed any special treatment upon resuming club colours.
“You don’t need to do much,” said the Glasgow coach. “They’re coming back very determined. I spoke to Josh last night, he’s our captain, so it was about getting him clued up on what we’ve worked on the last couple of days. This is unusual to play on a Thursday. He was very much up to speed, he came in early today to look at the plays, he played last week so a few of the things we would have done last week we’ll do this weekend.
“And other guys are really determined to get out and play. When you’re not selected for such a big game like Scotland-Italy, you certainly want to go out there and show what you can do. They’ve all got that opportunity this week.”
Elsewhere there is good news for Scotland and Glasgow fans with Alex Dunbar shaking off a string of injuries that has kept him sidelined these last five weeks. He forms a new midfield partnership with Glenn Bryce who scored the winner last weekend against Munster. The Scotland centre has managed just five matches all season, following surgery to repair a ruptured ACL in his knee so he is desperate to get a run of games under his belt.
“I’m fresh now, I’ve done nothing for the last ten months!” Dunbar says. “It was kind of frustrating not to get a run of games going again but I’ve done an extra few weeks of fitness this time round so the conditioning part of it should be good.”
After missing out on the World Cup might he yet play a part in the Six Nations?
“I am not focusing on that at all,” he said, batting the question aside. “I am just trying to get out and enjoy playing again. Obviously it’s been a frustrating last ten months. I have a chance and hopefully I’ll come through that OK and look to build back into come match fitness and momentum.”
Mike Blair returns after a head knock and teams up with Weir at half-back. The USA Eagle Greg Peterson takes Tim Swinson’s place in the second row and Fraser Brown takes the hooker’s shirt with Pat MacArthur out injured for the next few weeks.
Peter Murchie starts at fullback in what will be his 100th appearance for the club.
Glasgow have nine regular season matches in which to elbow their way into the play-off positions so how many, Townsend was asked, do they need to win. “We would probably have to win upwards of seven,” he replied and you can be sure that the Dragons is pencilled in as one of them.