These are strange days for Glasgow whose season has come to a premature end for players and fans alike. Still the Warriors support will get the chance to prove their loyalty by turning out in good numbers for this evening’s match against Zebre.
Coach Gregor Townsend has taken the opportunity to rest a few of his frontline troops and instead handed their jerseys to the team of tomorrow, not least the 18-year-old No 8 Matt Fagerson, the precociously talented younger brother of the precociously talented Scottish international Zander.
Fagerson Jnr, pictured inset, who has already started one league game this season, has turned out for the national under-20 side at openside and exactly where he will end up is a moot point according to his club coach.
“He is a player with real potential,” said Townsend. “He played very well for the under-20s this year at seven but he did a lot of ball carrying. He is someone we have high hopes for in the future.
“This is a good game to bring him in and let him get a feel [for things] at this level for 80 minutes but also it’s a good balance in the back row with Chris [Fusaro] and Rob [Harley], being a real ball-carrying No 8 with those two.
“He’s 18, [whether] it [is his best position] depends on what he does in terms of his growing. If he grows more he could develop into someone who could play No 8 at the highest level.”
Fagerson isn’t the only youngster to be handed an opportunity to impress. Scott Cummings starts at lock alongside Greg Peterson while Jamie Bhatti, Lewis Wynne, George Horne and Matt Smith are all picked on the substitutes’ bench alongside veteran Sean Lamont who must be tempted to charge babysitting fees. Leonardo Sarto makes his return from injury against his old club.
It has been a disappointing season for Glasgow, the first time the club has missed out on the play-offs since 2011. They have suffered injuries but such is Townsend’s sway at Murrayfield that Peterson was replaced by Brian Alainu’uese within weeks of the America Eagle popping his shoulder. So what has gone wrong?
“We have lost a couple of games that we were in a position to win against rivals for the top four places,” says Townsend when put on the spot. “So not only are you losing points, you are losing points to your direct rivals. Ulster, Munster were games we were leading going into the last ten minutes but have lost.
“I think the level of competition this year has been higher than in previous years. You see Leinster and Munster in the semi-finals of the Champions Cup, they are quality teams. Ospreys have had a great season. Ulster are always good. Scarlets have come through this season. That’s made it tougher but we have obviously not played as well as we would have liked.
“The two windows that we lost ground on our rivals were the Test windows. Partly we didn’t play as well as we wanted to but also the opponents we had in those windows were tougher than normal. That’s just a fact of life that you have to deal with.”
The brand new plastic pitch does not appear to have helped the Warriors’ cause much. Last season the club lost one league match at Scotstoun [they lost another “home” match at Murrayfield] to the Scarlets on the opening weekend of the league.
In the current campaign the Warriors have already lost four in their own backyard, against the Scarlets (again), Ospreys, Ulster and Munster who have the hex on them this season with four wins from four.
Zebre boast back-to-back wins coming into this game and the Italians will fancy their chances of making it three in a row.
But Townsend argued that the exposure his young players have had this season will stand them in good stead.
“We know we have to be better during those periods,” Townsend argued, “and I firmly believe that the experience that the players have had during those two Test windows will make this team much better for next year.
“You have guys who have played – Scott Cummings, Nick Grigg, Sam Johnson – players that are playing really well who are getting experience this year. If they are playing in those Test windows [next season] they will be a better team.”
The fightback starts tonight.