WE know that Dave Rennie likes to keep his squad rotated so we shouldn’t read too much into the fact that he has made six changes to his starting XV for round two of this season’s 1872 Cup against Edinburgh at Scotstoun tomorrow [Saturday]. His side were beaten 23-7 by the same opponents at Murrayfield last weekend, but the Kiwi coach insists that turning that score-line around on home soil is a matter of tightening up accuracy in attack rather than a complete overhaul in approach.
With Huw Jones injured and Nick Grigg being given a well-earned break, Alex Dunbar returns to the side for the first time since mid-October at outside centre, while the other five changes are purely down to Rennie’s determination to keep as many players as possible fresh and on their toes as the season builds towards its climax.
“Huw’s ribs are no good,” explained the coach. “And Nick is back in New Zealand – he pretty much ran off the field and jumped on a plane. We’ve made a real effort to make sure that everyone got a break at some stage but during the international window he was still training with Scotland the whole time, then we brought him back to play for us because we were a little bit thin in midfield, so he’s away this week and will be back in time for Treviso [next Saturday].
“It’s been about selection,” replied Rennie, when asked about Dunbar’s recent absence from the team (he even ended up playing club rugby for Ayr last month). “It’s a pretty competitive spot for us and the guys in possession have played really well. But Alex is an experienced player, we think he’ll give us a little bit of go forward and he’ll be desperate to impress.”
Elsewhere in the back-line, Niko Matawalu is rewarded for his impact off the bench last weekend by being handed the number 11 jersey in place of DTH van der Merwe, and the Fijian will look to carry on a rich vein of form which has seen him pick up seven tries in his last four starts for the club.
Meanwhile Ali Price gets the nod at scrum-half ahead of George Horne.
“If you look at the nines, there’s not a lot between those guys, so we want to keep a bit of competition going amongst them, that why they’re sharing the work-load at the moment and likewise with a couple of other spots,” reasoned Rennie.
There is also good news on the bench with Sam Johnson returning a couple of weeks earlier than originally expected from the knee injury which wrecked his chances of making a Scotland debut during November.
Looking for pack power
In the pack, club co-captain Ryan Wilson should add some much-needed bite to the back-row after replacing Adam Ashe at blind-side, Tim Swinson coming in for Rob Harley is another like-for-like switch in personnel, and D’Arcy Rae has been tasked with solidifying a scrum which really struggled against Edinburgh last week after being handed the number three jersey ahead of Siua Halanukonuka.
“We’re five months away from what I guess is the most important part of the season and we’re trying to still create competition for places and so on,” added Rennie. “We’re in a position where we can replace quality with quality. Five of the six players we’re bringing in to the starting line-up are internationals, all six have played over 50 games for the club and four are centurions. We’ve named a very strong side.”
One position Rennie was not tempted to change was stand-off, with Adam Hastings in need of a friendly arm around the shoulder rather than a boot in the backside after throwing two interception passes last week which gifted Edinburgh 14-points.
“He got caught flat a couple times and was put under a bit of pressure, but with both intercepts it wasn’t like we were under massive heat, it was just the pass selection let him down – so he’ll learn a lot from that,” said Rennie. “He’s having a good season and we want to show a bit of faith in that, so he gets a chance to redeem himself.”
With a seven-day turnaround over Christmas, there is not an awful lot Warriors can do tactically or structurally to make sure that last weekend’s away defeat is not repeated on home soil this weekend, but Rennie says that is fine with him. Fine-tuning the team’s attack will be the key as far as he is concerned.
Accuracy is key
“It’s just detail,” he insisted. “I thought defensively we were really good. We conceded two tries, but they were both from our possession. We created a lot of opportunities but just weren’t clinical enough. And, being honest, we didn’t work hard enough to get in position quick enough to expose them, so that’s going to have to shift.
“I’ve got not issues with attitude, but we need to be sharper – certainly we weren’t good enough with the ball in hand.
“We expect far more physicality in everything we do tomorrow,” he continued. “I don’t think we were out muscled last week – I thought there was a lot of brutality around our defence and we got reasonably quick ball at times – but we are always striving to be better there.
“What hurt us was the quality of decision making that denied us opportunities to score and ended up creating opportunities for them. So that just needs to be better.
“They’re a good side but we know what’s coming and everything they did last week was what we expected. They are going to do very simple exits, they are going to try and trap you and put you under a pressure, and so on. They aren’t going to play a hell of a lot of footie and we just weren’t clinical enough.
“I thought we did a really good job under the high ball, we caught everything – I think it was 13 – but it’s what we did beyond that that needs to be better. I don’t see them changing a hell of a lot, so we’ve just got to be sharper.
“We’re going to have to look after the ball because they’ve got guys who are good post tackle. In Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson, they’ve got two sharp men over the ball, so they’ll be really combative in that area.
“But what we know is that if we can get it right from an attack perspective – which will involve some smart kicking options to try and shape the defence – then we know we can score points.
“We’ve got a plan, we’ve just got to be good enough to implement it.”
- Glasgow Warriors versus Edinburgh at Scotstoun Stadium on Saturday 29th December 2018, kick-off is at 3pm. This match is live on Premier Sports.
Glasgow Warriors: Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Alex Dunbar, Pete Horne, Niko Matawalu; Adam Hastings, Ali Price; Oli Kebble, Grant Stewart, D’Arcy Rae, Tim Swinson, Jonny Gray, Ryan Wilson, Callum Gibbins, Matt Fagerson. Substitutes: Kevin Bryce, Jamie Bhatti, Siua Halanukonuka, Rob Harley, Chris Fusaro, George Horne, Sam Johnson, DTH van der Merwe.
Edinburgh: Blair Kinghorn; Darcy Graham, James Johnstone, Chris Dean, Duhan van der Merwe; Jaco van der Walt, Henry Pyrgos; Pierre Schoeman, Stuart McInally, WP Nel, Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Bill Mata. Substitutes: David Cherry, Allan Dell, Simon Berghan, Callum Hunter-Hill, Luke Crosbie, Nathan Fowles, Simon Hickey, Juan Pablo Socino.