Finn Russell makes a welcome return to Glasgow’s ranks for tonight’s match against Ulster. The Scotland stand-off has been sidelined for the last four months after a clash of heads with Zander Fagerson in the last match of last season. He has just 60 minutes of rugby under his belt, for Ayr in a BT Premier League match against Hawick last Saturday, and Ulster are sure to test his resolve.
“Most teams would run at the ten,” his coach Gregor Townsend conceded. “I remember Nick Williams ran at him a couple of times two seasons ago and Finn managed to pick him off, it was one of the best tackles I have seen a ten put in.
“Finn relishes the tackling side of the game. Ulster know Finn, they will know he is a very good tackler but a lot of teams run that channel.
“They have got Stuart McCloskey at No 12, one of the strongest carriers in the league, so I am sure we will see some ball carrying in that channel.”
Has Russell, his coach was quizzed, shown any signs of hesitancy in training ?
“No,” was Townsend’s blunt response.
“I’ve seen the opposite. I’ve seen him, when he wasn’t supposed to be doing contact with a pink bib, getting stuck in. In the last two and a half weeks since he’s done contact he’s tackled really well and we saw that at the weekend [for Ayr]. That has probably helped his return because he likes that side of the game so much.
“Yes, it was a serious injury and he’s missed a bit of time but he’s not missed much rugby because the injury was over the summer after the last game of the season.
“This is round four and he’s back playing for us. Like any injury you make a full recovery and you want to get out there and play.”
With no back-up on the bench, Townsend, pictured below, confirmed that Stuart Hogg was the relief stand-off should Russell be forced off.
After fielding what looked like a weakened team last weekend in Cardiff Townsend has rung the changes in an effort to get back to winning ways although he must do without Peter Horne who broke his hand against the Blues.
Instead the old pairing of Alex Dunbar and Mark Bennett line up outside Russell, who is partnered by Henry Pyrgos, happily recovered from a niggle. Tommy Seymour, Hogg and Leonardo Sarto make up the back three where the Italian’s defence will be tested by former All Black Charles Piutau on Ulster’s left wing.
Such is the injury toll at Glasgow that Townsend has had to whistle up two academy players to sit on the bench, with a third in the form of flanker Lewis Wynne starting at seven.
Eighteen-year-old flanker Matt Fagerson, brother of Zander, has only just finished high school and he covers the back row in the absence of Simone Favaro, Chris Fusaro and Rob Harley.
Lock Scott Cummings and centre Richie Vernon, who can do a shift in the third row, are both seeing specialists next week about their respective shoulder injuries. Little wonder that Townsend all but confirmed the capture of USA Eagle’s No 8 Langilangi Haupeakui,
The long injury list means an opportunity for a third apprentice. Glasgow-born and bred Sam Thomson, formerly of Perpignan, only joined the Warriors this summer and he starts alongside Fagerson (Jnr) on the Warriors bench.
Greg Peterson and Jonny Gray join forces in the second row while the giant Namibian international Tjiuee (pronounced “Chewey”) Uanivi wears the No 6 shirt with Ryan Wilson reverting to No 8 after Josh Strauss suffered a head knock on his return to the side last weekend.
This Glasgow squad has an important record to defend, Ulster have yet to win a league match at Scotstoun although they might fancy their chances tonight.
“Ulster are a top-class side. They have recruited pretty well. We know one of their top-line signings is a world class player,” Townsend said, referencing Piutau.
“They have always been one of the best teams in the competition and are three from three.
“The start of the season was going to be tough and we are playing top teams who have been in form as well.”
Jamie Murray was at Warriors’ training yesterday offering his insights, but Ulster can trump him: they boast Rory McIlroy amongst their fans.