Dave Rennie has thrown Edinburgh a curveball by benching his match-winning stand-off Finn Russell for the opening leg of the 1872 Cup derby. The Warriors coach was at pains to explain the decision in terms of Peter Horne’s current good form but it’s difficult to see it as anything other than a reaction to Russell’s decision to quit the club for Racing 92 in the summer.
“I am just trying to reward performance,” Rennie insisted. “We were happy with Pete’s 60 minutes [in Montpellier]. He controlled the game very well. He did everything we asked of him so we want to reward that.”
Did he perhaps, the Kiwi was quizzed, have one eye on next season when picking the team to take on Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield tomorrow?
“We are fortunate we have got two men who play well in that position,” Rennie replied. “Both will play some part against Edinburgh. I was really happy last week with Finn when the game broke up. He was able to put a lot of people in space around him as we know he can do. When he comes into the game we haven’t really thought too much about.
“We have no perception about Peter being in the starting team from now on either. We are keen to reward his good performance from last week and that’s why he starts.
”Statistically it might have been a dead rubber but we took a pretty good side over there and played against a very good Montpellier side and probably left three or four tries out on the park. We should have got a result last week. From that perspective we were very pleased at the way Pete controlled the game and that is why he gets another crack at it.”
Horne starts outside Ali Price with Henry Pyrgos alongside Russell on the bench. Alex Dunbar and Huw Jones occupy the midfield with Tommy Seymour, Lee Jones and the ever-dependable Ruaridh Jackson in the back three, the latter deputising for the injured Stuart Hogg.
Up front Glasgow field a powerful front row of Jamie Bhatti, Fraser Brown and Zander Fagerson, where they should have an edge.
It rather got lost, but the derby also marks Oli Kebble’s return to Glasgow’s match-day squad. The South African prop, a former flat-mate of Huw Jones whilst at the Stormers, is a Scotland project player of whom great things are expected and he brings the added bonus of playing on both sides of the scrum.
The back row is missing a few key personnel including Kiwi import Callum Gibbins and Ryan Wilson. Instead Rob Harley gets a start at blindside, Italian international Samu Vunisa continues at No 8 and youngster Matt Smith furthers his education in the No 7 shirt where he goes toe-to-toe with Scotland’s Hamish Watson.
Scott Cummings partners Glasgow captain Jonny Gray in the engine room and Rennie had nothing but good things to say about the second row forward, who announced on Wednesday that, unlike Russell, he was extending his stay at Scotstoun. “He’s a special man, Jonny, considering the amount of times he’s played for this club and his country for a 23 year old,” said Rennie.
“He’s a talisman around work ethic, his numbers are phenomenal. We’ve seen really good shifts on his game, he is leaner, he is fitter and more agile.
“You saw him getting away a number of off-loads last week and I just think he’ll get better and better. He’s truly world class so I’m very excited.
“He’s certainly feeling a lot better. He’s still got growths in his game but his numbers are phenomenal when we look at them post game, they are unbelievable,” added Rennie
Another scarcely believable number is Glasgow’s ten successive wins, which is just one short of Ulster’s Pro12/14 record set back in season 2012/13, so victory against Edinburgh tomorrow would match the record of 11.
“We have set a bit of a standard in amongst that [run],” said Rennie. “It’s something we are super proud of and we want to keep building on.
“I know Edinburgh would love to be the team to stop that run so it makes it all the more intriguing.
“I am aware of that [record]. I think one of the trainspotters might have mentioned it. It’s not necessarily a motivating factor. Whatever we end up with we end up with and we will look back on it but it’s not something we have really talked about.”