If you ever wondered what Dave Rennie’s strongest XV looked like now you know... barring a few inevitable injuries. The Glasgow coach promised us his first XV and we could have guessed most of it ourselves with the possible exception of Ryan Wilson. The breakaway may boast 41 Scotland caps but he doesn’t appear anywhere in Glasgow’s 23-man squad for the first leg of the 1872 Cup.
The reinvigorated Adam Ashe fills the No 6 shirt with Matt Fagerson at No 8 and club captain Callum Gibbins on the openside flank. Backing them up on the bench is Chris Fusaro, a nuggety turnover specialist, but there’s no place for Wilson.
“There’s not much in it,” noted Rennie, pictured. “I thought he played pretty well at the weekend, but we thought Ashey was excellent against Lyon in the previous round and we want to reward that, so we’ve gone with Matt Fagerson who is also in really good form so there is no space for Ryan this week.”
Rob Harley beats Tim Swinson to the second spot in the second row alongside the ubiquitous Jonny Gray, while Grant Stewart gets the nod at hooker, through necessity rather than anything else, with Fraser Brown and George Turner both undergoing recent operations.
Kevin Bryce backs Stewart up off the bench and has more to prove than most. The flanker-cum-hooker-cum-prop-cum-hooker has been pushed from pillar to post by those who run the game without being given time in the saddle. Hooker is his best position and it would be good to see him grab this opportunity because he carries hard and scrummages as well as any of his rivals.
In the backs the pairing of George Horne and Adam Hastings is restored at half-back, while Rennie has the luxury of freshening up his team with two new centres. Out go Stafford McDowall and Huw Jones, who played against Lyon last Saturday, in come Peter Horne for his 150th appearance in Glasgow colours and the pocket rocket that is Nick Grigg.
“This is the pairing that played in the first game against Lyon,” Rennie explained. “I thought they were both excellent then. Nick Grigg has been in a rich vein of form, so he was an easy choice because he has been great on both sides of the ball [defence and attack] and with his ability to break the line. He’s a really powerful ball carrier and he has an ability to chop defensively. He brought up his 50th game amongst all that and he is going great.
“As we’ve done in the past, we’re picking on form. We have a couple of good midfielders who are missing out.” Alex Dunbar a case in point.
The centres are just two of seven changes Rennie has made to the starting XV that beat Lyon in the wet last weekend and just one of them, Stewart, has been forced upon him by injury. Edinburgh have made just one change, Pierre Schoeman coming in for Allan Dell at loosehead, and Glasgow’s injection of fresh blood should give them a small edge if the derby degenerates into a war of attrition.
It is tempting to see this match as Edinburgh’s forwards against Glasgow’s backs, and while there is a sliver of truth in that, this contest is more complex. Expect to see some messy set scrums because both looseheads, Schoeman and Oli Kebble, should have the whip hand over their tighthead opponents, WP Nel and Siua Halanukonuka. The Tongan international struggled against Lyon last weekend and was lucky not to lose the starting shirt.
The home side is sure to apply some heat to Hastings’ feet this afternoon. The stand-off looked a little ordinary when Wales employed their hard press in the opening round of the autumn series and Edinburgh’s defence coach Calum MacRae is sure to have noted as much.
Glasgow have by far the more impressive midfield but whether their forwards can secure the quick, front-foot ball they need to exploit the advantage is another matter. Edinburgh appear to hold most of the trump cards in the forward pack, including the peerless pair of Viliame Mata and Hamish Watson, not that Rennie was going to concede the point.
“We’re wary of it,” said the Kiwi when asked about Edinburgh’s power up front. “But we’ve got a really good pack. We were a little bit disappointed with our scrum at the weekend once we got 20 minutes into the game but they were horrific conditions and you query whether these games should go 80 minutes when you look back at the footage and how cold and wet everyone was.
“But we’ve had a really good scrum, our forwards have fronted really well and the expectation is that we’ll get out there and do a job. We played them in the second game at home last year, a couple of days after Christmas, and our pack was really dominant that day. So, we know we’ve got it within us. If we’ve got expectations of winning this game, then we have to go really well up front.
“They have a lot of very good players and a lot of international boys, as we have. I will be backing us, clearly, but I’m sure there are plenty of people in Edinburgh colours who believe they can win tomorrow.”