Glasgow boss insists benching Finn Russell was not a mistake

Glasgow Warriors' Finn Russell began the game on the bench against Edinburgh last week but has been picked to start for the second leg at Scotstoun. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
Glasgow Warriors' Finn Russell began the game on the bench against Edinburgh last week but has been picked to start for the second leg at Scotstoun. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
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The first step to solving a problem is to admit to yourself that you have one but Dave Rennie denied point-blank that benching Finn Russell in last weekend’s loss to Edinburgh was in any way a mistake.

“The answer to that is ‘no’,” he stated from the off. When asked why the Scotland stand-off had been returned to frontline action for today’s re-match, the beleaguered Glasgow boss offered this.

“Finn is a starting international ten,” which Rennie knew last weekend. ”Peter [Horne] started against Montpellier and he got a chance to back it up last week. Finn comes back in. He has been in pretty good form for us.

”When the game breaks up he [Russell] is lethal. He did a couple of things at the weekend which meant we should have stolen the game but we didn’t. I am happy with the way he is going.”

Rennie shied away from being overly critical of Horne but he did admit that, even with a man in the bin for 75 minutes of the 80, Edinburgh bossed the ball for the simple reason that Glasgow kept kicking it to them.

In truth, neither Horne nor Russell stamped their authority on last weekend’s match but there is little doubt which one is the better player and the fact that Rennie started the sidekick rather than the superhero undermined his side on a day when they created enough chances to win two matches.

“We created a hell of a lot of opportunities and when we took the boys back through and reviewed [the video] there were so many times when if we’d scored the game would have been gone,” said Rennie, pictured. “But we didn’t put them away and to their credit they [Edinbuurgh] hung in there and forced the issue right at the end. We’re really disappointed with that performance, it’s not good enough and we need to be better this week. It just highlights that attitude is crucial and I just don’t think we were sharp enough at the weekend. You’ve got to be clinical and take opportunities. Edinburgh only had a couple and they got down in our corner and drove a couple of lineouts and forced a bit of pressure. We have been converting opportunities down at the other end of the field pretty well, but if you don’t get it right and you don’t have the attitude quite right then you get hurt.”

Overall Rennie has changed one third of his starting XV and demoted some big names in the process.

Nick Grigg comes in for Huw Jones who threw one scoring pass straight into touch last weekend. Tommy Seymour has a toe injury and his place is taken by Niko Matawalu, while the tall, athletic figure of Kiran McDonald replaces Scott Cummings with the youngster earning a well-deserved rest. And George Horne ousts Henry Pyrgos on the bench.

“George is putting a hot of heat on the other nines, including Ali [Price],” explained Rennie. “He has sniffed out a number of tries and been in great form but Ali will be highly motivated.”

Jonny Gray was listed in the second row but he wasn’t training with the rest of the squad when the press looked in last Thursday. If he doesn’t recover from whatever was ailing him then the USA Eagle Greg Peterson is ready to step up off the bench.

And the young Scottish breakaway Matt Fagerson replaces Italian international Samu Vunisa in the middle of the back row, further lowering average age of the young Glasgow pack. Zander’s little brother can play across the row and he is only recently returned from injury as 
Rennie explained.

“Matt Fagerson has obviously been injured for a number of weeks,” his coach noted. “He was available last week but we decided not to use him. He’s played pretty well for us earlier in the year, he’s a good athlete so it’s a big game for him because he’s still young enough to play Scotland under-20s. He’s got a big future for our club so we’re keen to get him out there.

“He’s a good athlete, he is very quick, has great footwork and an ability to get in behind defences, which we battled with at the weekend.

“He’s explosive and can create a bit of damage, and he’s pretty good post-tackle. He’s not a big man but he’s a handy lineout forward, so he deserves another crack.”

But for all the talk of team line-ups, replacements and personnel, none of the above matter much in comparison with some old fashioned desperation to win which is what Edinburgh displayed in spades last weekend.

“They out-passioned us,” said Rennie of his inter-city rivals. “The boys are hurting about that. We are keen to redeem ourselves.”

On another note, Rennie conceded that Scotland and Lions’ fullback Stuart Hogg could make his come back from a hip injury as early as next week against the Italian side Zebre, but only if he is fully recovered. Neither Rennie nor Gregor Townsend want to force that issue.