Kiwi Callum Gibbins captains the side following a three-month injury lay-off during which time the flanker’s mongrel snarl was sorely missed. Gibbins joined Glasgow at the behest of coach Dave Rennie and the former Hurricane was a breath of fresh air throughout the early season exchanges. Since his injury Glasgow have noticeably wilted and their tally during the Six Nations, when also shorn of a host of Scotland stars, reads; won one, lost one, drawn one, while the match against Ulster was postponed.
“He’s a real quality player, not just his ability on the field, but his leadership,” Rennie said of his fellow countryman. “He did such a great job for us in the first half of the year. He’s certainly refreshed and keen to rip into it. It’s great to have him back.”
Elsewhere, the returning winger DTH van der Merwe has barely had time to unpack his bags before the former Scotstoun favourite has been rushed back into the front line. The Canadian international starts this evening’s match after making the mid-season switch from the Falcons.
He is joined by several Scottish internationals. Tim Swinson got less than 60 minutes in Rome last weekend and Zander Fagerson just 40 so both men are pressed into service this evening while the Scotland regulars like Jonny Gray and Stuart Hogg are given a well earned rest.
“He’s trained really well over the last couple of weeks,” Rennie replied when asked about van der Merwe. “He looks as sharp as ever and can’t wait to get into it. He’s watched a fair bit of footy at Newcastle, but he had a fair bit of footy with Canada through their World Cup qualifiers. It will be great to put him back out on the park quickly tomorrow.
“The guys we’ve left out played a big part in the [Six Nations] campaign, eight weeks of fairly intensive training and playing. But even the weeks when they don’t play, they’re still training and our boys are playing a full part in it so they’ve had a heavy load. We’ve given them most of this week off, they’ll have all of next week off as well, and then come back ready and fresh for Scarlets.”
Fraser Brown misses out with damage to his ankle ligaments that occurred in Rome so George Turner appears between Fagerson and South African Oli Kebble in what looks like a formidable front row. Swinson and Scott Cummings lock the scrum while Rob Harley and the younger of the fabulous Fagerson brothers Matt join Gibbins in the back row.
Henry Pyrgos is selected ahead of George Horne at scrum-half, perhaps to take some of the heat off his younger stand-off Adam Hastings. The hard running duo of Sam Johnson and Nick Grigg in the centre should give the Zebre defence plenty to think about.
This will be the last game for a few weeks for full-back Ruaridh Jackson, Horne, Matt Fagerson and winger Lee Jones, before the quartet join the Scotland sevens squad for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, stopping off in Hong Kong first.
“We talked a long time ago about the Commonwealth Games,” said Rennie. “I said to [Scotland Sevens coach] John Dalziel to make a wish list of who he’d like to take and then we’d see how we go, based on injury and based on where guys are at.
“When you look at it we have a fair bit of fire power to come back. Those guys have been great for us and its a real honour to represent your country at the Commonwealth Games. We want to make Scotland as strong as possible in that tournament.
“It turns out that, with the Ulster game moved, they’ll probably miss that game too because they’ll be travelling back. We’re still comfortable with the decision. The boys are keen as to play and go to Hong Kong first to get back into the rhythm of sevens footy before the Commonwealth Games.”
Rennie may yet have an abrupt change of heart if he loses one or two frontline players to injury for the final few rounds of the regular season.