Double Six Nations Player of the Championship Stuart Hogg leads a cavalry charge of returning Scotland internationals for Glasgow’s must-win Guinness Pro12 match against champions Connacht at Scotstoun this evening.
Hogg goes straight back into Gregor Townsend’s team at full-back, with Scotland half-backs Finn Russell and Ali Price also starting the game. Tim Swinson packs down in the second row, while Fraser Brown, Gordon Reid and Alex Dunbar offer some firepower off the bench.
Co-captains Jonny Gray and Henry Pyrgos are rested, with Tommy Seymour (back), Zander Fagerson (foot) and Ryan Wilson (shoulder) missing out with minor injuries.
“All the guys were keen to play, even Ryan managed to get himself on the training field yesterday, still with a sore shoulder,” said coach Gregor Townsend. “But we don’t see Tommy and Zander being major worries for next week.
“Jonny was keen to play but we felt it was right that he rested this weekend. The bonus is players like Stuart, Finn and Ali Price, Tim Swinson, Gordy Reid, Fraser Brown, Alex Dunbar have come back in good health. It gives us a good boost to have that quality available. Henry has played five games and takes a rest.”
With sixth-placed Glasgow staring up at an 11-point gap to fourth-place Ulster, Townsend accepts there is no more room for error if they want to make it into the play-offs this season.
Asked if he felt the Warriors needed to win all five of their remaining regular-season games, the coach replied: “Probably. It’d be nice if we could achieve that.
“The next three games are hugely exciting and also hugely challenging . We’re playing the reigning Pro12 champions, reigning European champions and then Munster away, who’ve probably been the best team in Europe this season.
“It would be great to come out of this period and still be in two competitions, that would be the goal.”
That other competition being the European Champions Cup, with a huge quarter-final at Saracens a week tomorrow. Townsend doesn’t believe that will distract from the task at hand today against the Irish province.
“I hope not. We’ve all got memories of losing to Connacht twice at the end of the last season, so we certainly want to play well against them because no player or coach wants to lose, and playing at home makes it doubly important, especially for those players who haven’t played at Scotstoun since January,” said Townsend. “And also for our chances of getting into the play-offs – we need to be winning, in fact we need to go on a winning run until the end of the season. It’s also a really good game for us to be involved in – Connacht play good running rugby, which is a huge test for your defence but it means it’ll be a high-tempo game from either team.
“These are the games we love to play in, and it’s how we train. It should be a cracking match. Sixteen degrees and sun [forecast], it’s a game we’re all looking forward to.”
Hogg said: “I spoke to Gregor on the Sunday after the [Italy] game and he asked how the body was and I said I was fine and happy to go again. I am hugely excited about the challenge and the opportunity to build momentum towards the end of the season.”