CONTINUITY was key for Dave Rennie as he considered the best way to approach Sunday’s crucial Champions Cup clash against the Blues in Cardiff. He has stuck with the same starting pack as fought tooth and nail against Saracens last weekend, whilst behind the scrum he has made one enforced and only one tactical change.
Centre Alex Dunbar picked up a head knock and is still going through the return to play protocols, meaning Sam Johnson – who was named in Gregor Townsend’s Scotland training squad on Wednesday – will make his first appearance of the season after shaking off his own injury issues.
Meanwhile, Tommy Seymour comes in for Ruaridh Jackson at full-back, with Rennie looking for more of an attacking threat from deep against a Blues team which likes to kick the ball.
“He probably offers something a little different that will be good for us this weekend,” said the coach. “He is lighting quick – similar to Stuart Hogg – and he is really strong aerially.
“We know Cardiff are going to kick a lot of ball, they kick second most in the PRO14. He [Seymour] has a really strong kicking game and is a good communicator. He has not played a lot at full-back but what it means is that he will get a lot more ball in his hands and will be able to ask some questions from a counterattack point of view.”
Rennie added that he has no concerns about asking his forward to front up for what promises to be a second huge game in seven days.
“We were really happy with our set-piece [against Saracens] – the defensive maul was excellent, we scrummed well, the line-out functioned pretty well – then around the paddock we made an enormous number of tackles from our front eight. Bodies are pretty battered, but we are pretty happy with them, that is why we are putting them straight back out there, it is good from a continuity point of view.”
While a defeat on Sunday would not kill Glasgow’s chances of making the last eight stone-dead, it wold leave them a very tall and very steep mountain to climb. Rennie clearly didn’t want to put any extra pressure on his players, but there is no escaping the magnitude of this game.
“It is pretty tough, isn’t it? If we lose this weekend, it is not impossible after the Scarlets did it last year, but what it would mean is that we would definitely have to beat Saracens away from home and pick up some bonus points as well as looking to win every game,” he said.
With so much at stake, questions about whether his team are likely to continue their policy of turning down kicks at goal to push for tries were inevitable. That approach backfired last weekend when Warriors kicked three penalties into the corner just before half-time but came away with nothing, however, Rennie pointed out that there were other factors in play that day – alluding to the fact that French whistler Mathieu Reynal seemed determined to give Saracens the benefit of the doubt.
“It is all situational. I know we felt going into the half that if you go into the corner and win another penalty you have a chance of not just putting pressure on the opposition but also on the referee,” he explained. “We felt that we got three penalties down in that corner and probably should have got a penalty after that last maul collapsed, and then you bring the referee into the game. That is what we felt. If you go multiphase down there and they continue to infringe, the ref would be left with no option.
“Sometimes shots at goal are turned down because you know the opposition are under pressure, not just from us scoring but also from them infringing. It is all game situation, sometimes we will kick those, sometimes put them in the corner.”
The Blues picked up a valuable win on the road in Lyon in round one. They have lost Wales international Josh Navidi to injury but have called up a formidable replacement in the giant frame of New Zealander Nick Williams.
There are three other changes, with George Earle coming into second-row at the expense of Macauley Cook, Rey Lee-Lo taking over at inside-centre from Garyn Smith, and Aled Summerhill replacing the injured Owen Lane on the wing.
“Last week’s performance was superb and we were deserving of what was a really good win to kick-off the competition,” said Blues coach John Mulvhill.
“It was a hugely physical game and it came at a cost with a few boys injured but with the strength in depth we are developing in the squad we have quality players to come in.
“After beating Lyon and getting that win on the road, it is vitally important that we back it up at home and it promises to be an awesome occasion at the Arms Park.
Glasgow Warriors (v Cardiff Blues at Cardiff Arms Park, Sunday 2ast August, kick-off 3.15pm, live on BT Sport 3): T Seymour; L Jones, H Jones, S Johnson, D van der Merwe; A Hastings, A Price; O Kebble, F Brown, D Rae, R Harley, J Gray, R Wilson, C Gibbins, M Ferguson. Subs: G Turner, A Allan, P du Plessis, S Cummings, C Fusaro, G Horne, P Horne, N Matawalu.
Cardiff Blues: G Anscombe; A Summerhill, R Lee-Lo, W Halaholo, J Harries; J Evans, T Williams; R Gill, K Dacey, D Lewis, G Earle, J Turnbull, O Robinson, E Jenkins, N Williams. Subs: E Lewis, B Thyer, S Andrews, R Thornton, S Manoa, L Williams, C Smith, M Morgan.