Why Murphy Walker’s return has prompted caution warning from Glasgow Warriors coach

Prop one of 11 changes made by Franco Smith

Franco Smith has cautioned against expecting too much of Murphy Walker as the tighthead prop prepares to make his first Glasgow Warriors appearance in over 16 months in Saturday’s clash with the Bulls at altitude in Pretoria.

The young tighthead has had a wretched time with injuries in recent seasons but things are starting to brighten for the 24-year-old from Dundee, who signed a new two-year contract with the Scotstoun club this week. He will start against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in an all-new Glasgow pack as Smith rings the changes for what is likely to be a stringent test for the league leaders. Walker’s last outing at senior level came when he played for Scotland in the win over Italy in the World Cup warm-up Test at Murrayfield on July 29 last year. But you have to go back to December 16, 2022, for his last Glasgow appearance, when Murphy helped the Warriors defeat Perpignan 26-18 in the Challenge Cup at Murrayfield.

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Glasgow went all the way to the final in that competition and are looking to do the same in the United Rugby Championship this season following a run of six successive wins which has lifted them to the top of the standings, with three rounds remaining before the play-offs. Murphy, who has had to deal with neck, knee and calf injuries, still has the scope to play a meaningful part in the finale. “We’re very excited to have him back and he is very excited to contribute,” said Smith, the Glasgow coach. “The benefit of him not being able to play for a long time allowed him to physically develop well. He’s worked hard in various components of his body composition and hopefully he can now hit the ground running.”

Murphy has long been seen as a player with the potential to make an impact at international level in what is a specialised position. Scotland have been superbly served by Zander Fagerson and WP Neil at tighthead for most of the past decade but with Nel due to retire at the end of the season, back-up is required for Fagerson. Murphy won his first Scotland cap after only three starts and five appearances off the bench for Glasgow and has added two more caps since and Smith is wary of heaping too much pressure on the player.

“We mustn’t get overexcited,” said the coach. “Let him start playing first. Any extra pressure on his performance might limit his ability to grow. He’s got a long way to go. Zander is close to 70 Test matches and it is going to take Murphy time to catch up to that. For now he needs to find his feet again in our environment.”

Fagerson will start on the bench against the Bulls as Glasgow try to combat the heat and altitude against a team who are eight points behind them in fourth place. Smith has made 11 changes in total to the side which beat Zebre a fortnight ago and there is also a return from injury for Jamie Bhatti, the loosehead prop. Grant Stewart starts at hooker instead of Gregor Hiddleston who hurt his calf against Zebre, with back-up on the bench provided by URC top try-scorer Johnny Matthews who has shaken off an ankle injury.

Gregor Brown, primarily a flanker, slots into the second row alongside Scott Cummings, and Matt Fagerson, Rory Darge and Jack Dempsey make up a strong-looking back row. Tom Jordan and George Horne return at half-back and Sebastian Cancelliere is preferred on the wing to Kyle Rowe.

Murphy Walker has had a torrid time with injuries but will start for Glasgow Warriors against the Bulls in South Africa.  (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)Murphy Walker has had a torrid time with injuries but will start for Glasgow Warriors against the Bulls in South Africa.  (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Murphy Walker has had a torrid time with injuries but will start for Glasgow Warriors against the Bulls in South Africa. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

Smith said it was about six to seven degrees hotter than is usual for this time of the year in South Africa and it is expected to be about 20 degrees when the game kicks off at 2pm local time (1pm BST). Glasgow will require cool heads and stamina in one of rugby’s great arenas if they are to pull off a victory which would be up there with the club’s greatest results.

Vodacom Bulls v Glasgow Warriors: URC, Loftus Versfeld, Saturday, 1pm BST. TV: live on Premier Sports.

Vodacom Bulls: Willie Le Roux; Canan Moodie, David Kriel, Harold Vorster, Kurt-Lee Arendse; Chris Smith, Embrose Papier; Gerhard Steenekamp, Akker van der Merwe, Wilco Louw, Ruan Vermaak, Ruan Nortje (co-capt), Marcon van Staden, Elrigh Louw (co-capt), Cameron Hanekom. Replacements: Johan Grobbelaar, Simphiwe Matanzima, Francois Klopper, Reinhardt Ludwig, Nizaam Carr, Zak Burger, Jaco van der Valt, Devon Williams.

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Glasgow Warriors: Josh McKay; Kyle Steyn (capt), Stafford McDowall, Sione Tuipulotu, Sebastian Cancelliere; Tom Jordan, George Horne; Jamie Bhatti, Grant Stewart, Murphy Walker, Gregor Brown, Scott Cummings, Matt Fagerson, Rory Darge, Jack Dempsey. Replacements: Johnny Matthews, Nathan McBeth, Zander Fagerson, Max Williamson, Euan Ferrie, Henco Venter, Jamie Dobie, Duncan Weir.

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU).



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