Glasgow Warriors have not had their troubles to seek this season when it has come to player unavailability, with multiple injuries and suspensions in key positions really testing the versatility and the strength in depth of the squad.
In particular, there has been some serious stretching of resources at hooker, with the top three contenders for the No 2 jersey at the start of the season in Fraser Brown, George Turner and Pat MacArthur all missing significant chunks of the campaign, so James Malcolm, backed up by Grant Stewart of Glasgow Hawks, had to step up to the plate in January.
Prop Oli Kebble, a summer signing from South Africa, has managed only one start and six appearances off the bench; second-rows Scott Cumming, Brian Alainu’uese and Tim Swinson have had significant spells on the sidelines; as have back-rowers Callum Gibbons (a revelation for the club at the start of the campaign) and Adam Ashe.
Centres Alex Dunbar, Sam Johnson and Richie Vernon, as well as wingers Lelia Masaga, Leonardo Sarto and Rory Hughes, have alsosuffered more than minor niggles.
However, defence coach Kenny Murray reports that the squad is now just a few players away from full strength. Though not all of the injured men will be available this week, they are back in training.
“I think we’re in as good a position now, at this stage of the season, as we have been in all the time I’ve been here,” said Murray, who joined the coaching staff in the summer of 2013.
“We’ve got Pat MacArthur out and Leo Sarto’s had an operation, but other than that every other player who’s been out is back. There will be a few knocks now and again, but there’s nothing major [at the moment]. We’re anticipating going into this final run-in with pretty much as strong a squad as we’ve had, which is great.”
The choice in the back three has also been boosted by the return of winger DTH van der Merwe, who is available to play immediately, having made a mid-season switch from Newcastle Falcons.
“It’s great to have him back in. He trained last week and looked really sharp. He’s exactly what he was when he left – a really good ball carrier, quick on his feet and sharp around the pitch. For the run-in, we’re going to need our X-factor players, and he has that in abundance. He’ll be in contention for this weekend,” said Murray.
All of which means there is no pressure to push any Scotland squad members from the Six Nations straight back into action when Zebre provide the opposition at Scotstoun on Friday night.
“Some guys will definitely be unavailable depending on who’s had a lot of game time,” confirmed Murray. “But some maybe didn’t get as much [time on the park] so we’ve got an opportunity to bring them back in.”
“The following week we don’t have a game, so we’ve an opportunity to rest guys a bit more that week.”
The most obvious candidates to be rested are Johnny Gray, Ryan Wilson, Ali Price, Finn Russell, Pete Horne, Huw Jones and Stuart Hogg, who all played in every match during the Six Nations, while Tommy Seymour only missed the Ireland game through injury.