GLASGOW fly-half Ruaridh Jackson has warned his side against under-estimating Italians Zebre and ruining a rare fine start to the RaboDirect Pro12 season in Italy this evening, but insists that they now travel to every destination with a fresh confidence.
The Warriors are boosted by the return of skipper Al Kellock – who makes his 150th appearance – and Sean Maitland, making his first appearance since the British and Irish Lions tour, and they are among nine changes in personnel as head coach Gregor Townsend continues to rotate players for the Parma challenge.
Maitland replaces the injured Stuart Hogg at full-back, Argentine Gabriel Ascarate makes his first competitive start for the club in place of Mark Bennett at outside centre and Byron McGuigan and Henry Pyrgos replace Sean Lamont and Chris Cusiter respectively.
In the pack, prop Gordon Reid comes in for Ryan Grant at loosehead, Scotland hooker Dougie Hall replaces Pat MacArthur. Rob Harley is handed a shift at second row and James Eddie and Josh Strauss return to the starting line-up.
Fijian Niko Matawalu is back from injury and starts on the bench tonight.
Glasgow head to Parma with the league’s only 100 per cent record and acutely aware that Zebre will be in confident mood after securing their first championship win, away to Cardiff. That has focused minds in Glasgow this week, according to Jackson.
“To get off to a fast start is really important,” he said. “We were a bit slow last year and it’s great to get a wee edge early doors, but we have to capitalise and keep kicking on now in big games like this against Zebre, who got a great win in Cardiff and so will be a on a real high.
“It’s not going to be easy, for sure, but also these are the games that we have to go out and win. We definitely go into games expecting to win and never feel we’re the underdogs whether we’re home or away.”
The pressure on Glasgow’s treatment room is beginning to ease and they have a strong bench named for tonight, but the fact that they are still missing Hogg (wrist), Peter Horne (knee), Peter Murchie (shoulder), Tom Ryder (head), DTH van der Merwe (illness), Ryan Wilson (shoulder) and Mike Cusack (shoulder) underlines the new strength in depth at the club.
The Italians are without international lock Quintin Geldenhuys and flanker Filippo Ferrarini through injuries picked up in Cardiff, but under the captaincy of veteran Test star Marco Bortolami they have a side of players that can be potent when given an inch of space.
Mauro Bergamasco remains a threat while in the back line Fijian centre Kameli Ratuvou is back after missing last week’s historic win, All Black Brendan Leonard and Italy fly-half Luciano Orquera retain the controls at half-back and Leonardo Sarto, who Scotland supporters may remember scored on his Test debut against the Scots in South Africa in the summer, resumes his rivalry with Tommy Seymour.
But, with most clubs rotating players and managing injuries early in the season, this is where Glasgow can improve on past years and benefit from the stronger squad. The key, according to Townsend, is maintaining a consistent level of performance irrespective of the personnel, which the Warriors proved adept at on most occasions last term, and recognising the need to bring the same intensity of a home match to one like this on the road.
“Beating Leinster last Friday was a fantastic result for the club,” said the head coach, “but our focus is now on backing that up with a win against Zebre.
“They are a very difficult team to play against and after winning their first game in the league last week they will be full of confidence. Our players are acutely aware of the improvement Zebre have made since they entered the competition last season and how we must limit any opportunities they have to attack.
“We’re delighted to have Al and Niko back after their injuries and we also welcome back Sean Maitland after his involvement with the British and Irish Lions during the summer.”
Zebre came close to beating Ulster and Cardiff at home last season, but went down 36-20 to Glasgow in their Parma meeting, which was during the RBS Six Nations.
The Warriors started slowly and had to come from behind twice in that match before going on to claim victory with a brace of tries from McGuigan. Jackson added: “We’re really looking forward to this game and we know we have to perform from the start.
“I don’t want to speak too early because it’s just the beginning of the season, but we are so desperate to go out and do something this year. There is a feeling that this could be our year, and it’s up to us to put it right on the paddock and get these wins.”
• Glasgow Warriors team to play Zebre, RaboDirect PRO12, Stadio XXV Aprile, Friday 27 September (kick-off 7.30pm local time):
15. Sean Maitland
14. Tommy Seymour
13. Gabriel Ascarate
12. Alex Dunbar
11. Byron McGuigan
10. Ruaridh Jackson
9. Henry Pyrgos
1. Gordon Reid
2. Dougie Hall
3. Jon Welsh
4. Rob Harley
5. Al Kellock [Captain]
6. James Eddie
7. Chris Fusaro
8. Josh Strauss
16. Fraser Brown
17. Jerry Yanuyanutawa
18. Moray Low
19. Jonny Gray
20. Tyrone Holmes
21. Richie Vernon
22. Niko Matawalu
23. Scott Wight