A new-look Glasgow team has been selected, or rather foisted upon coach Dave Rennie, for this evening’s daunting trip to Thomond Park in the Guinness Pro14.
Both teams are in Conference A, with Glasgow leading the way, ten points ahead of their rivals, who sit in fourth. It may be a scratch side but, as Rennie points out, the call-ups to Gregor Townsend’s Scotland squad were not unexpected.
“Gregor has communicated really well,” said the Warriors’ coach. “They obviously had a plan. It was pretty clear we were going to get about six (players) back. Obviously they are going to keep some guys like who they think will start.”
Grant Stewart gets a rare start at hooker for Glasgow either side of props Oli Kebble and D’Arcy Rae. Rob Harley partners Scott Cummings in the second row, while Callum Gibbins and Adam Ashe are listed as flankers, either side of No 8 Matt Fagerson, whose odds of playing for Scotland against Wales in Cardiff next weekend have lengthened considerably as a result of him starting this match.
The two Horne brothers, No 10 Peter and scrum-half George, bring fraternal understanding to the half-back partnership with the regular starters, Adam Hastings and Ali Price, both unavailable. Peter hasn’t had much of a look in this season after starting the disastrous 38-28 defeat by Southern Kings in South Africa – Glasgow’s only loss in the league to date.
The match will also mark a milestone for another Fifer, Chris Fusaro, who is set to make his 150th appearance in Glasgow colours off the bench. The flanker has been part of the fixtures and fittings at the club since 2010 and seems to have found a new lease of life this season.
“He’s a terrific man,” said Rennie. “I’ve got a lot of time for him. He’s an influential man within the group, really popular, a real high character, a high-quality man.
“It’s also what he brings on the field. He brings a lot of edge, he’s really physical Fuzzy. What you know you are going to get on the field is someone who’s really competitive and someone who’s really combative. He’s really strong, he’s great around clean-out, post-tackle and so on. He’s on great form which is the reason he’s been involved in all but one game we’ve had this year and that was down to a head knock. He is a contributor on and off the field and I am rapt for him to be playing 150.”
Fusaro and the rest of the Warriors’ breakaways have their work cut out this evening because Munster have chosen a strong team with two Lions forwards, CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony, in the back row of the scrum. It seems likely that Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will pick a second-string side to fly to Chicago next week for the fixture against Italy, keeping his frontline troops fresh for the upcoming matches against Argentina and the All Blacks.
Munster have had an odd start to their league season, winning their three home matches while losing the three they have played on the road.
“It is an important match,” Rennie admitted. “They’ve already dropped three games, so they’ll be really fired up for this.
“They have been tough at home. They absolutely smashed Ulster. They obviously tripped up against us. I think two or three defensive lapses were the difference when they played Cardiff and obviously they played Leinster away as well, who are a tough side for anyone to beat.
“Look at their form in Europe where they have a really tough group. To be leading that after two weeks, having already played Exeter away and Gloucester at home, is pretty impressive. What we know is that they’ll be tougher over here and we’re mindful of the physical battle that it is going to take.
As Rennie said, the pair have already met at Scotstoun on the second weekend of the season, a match that Glasgow won 25-10, but Munster grow arms and legs when playing in front of their own fans at Thomond Park and they will expect to gain revenge for that loss this evening.