DAVE Rennie has made an adventurous selection for Glasgow Warriors’ season opener in Galway, opting for George Horne and Adam Hastings at half-back rather than the far more experienced Nick Frisby and Peter Horne. The two older men are still involved – Frisby on the bench and Horne senior at inside centre – but the choice is nonetheless a significant vote of confidence in a duo who will have a vital role to play this season.
While the Warriors go into the campaign with injury problems, with scrum-half Ali Price and locks Tim Swinson, Kiran McDonald and Brian Alainu’ese are all sidelined, the squad for the game against Connacht looks reassuringly strong in most departments. Stuart Hogg returns at full-back, Jonny Gray is at lock, and Zander Fagerson will play at tight-head in a front row that also includes Oli Kebble and George Turner.
Given Frisby was the team’s most high-profile summer signing, his omission from the starting line-up may be seen as a surprise, but Rennie insisted he had picked the team on form. “We thought about starting him, but we’ve got a lot of choice there,” the head coach said. “George and Adam are a bit of a combination and they got the nod.
“We haven’t picked them in particular because of who were playing this week – they both had good seasons for us last year. Obviously, Peter Horne is another option at 10 although we’re playing him at 12 this week. They’ve gone really well pre-season, so they get the first crack.
“This week, with Sam Johnson out, we were keen to get Peter on because he’s a very good communicator and organiser, which will help Adam. Peter had an excellent international season last year and played a lot at 12, but he just wants to play, he doesn’t care whether it’s at 10 or 12. He’ll play a fair bit of 10 for us as well, but we’re very happy with how Adam’s gone so far.”
Johnson was concussed against Northampton last week, and with Huw Jones also out injured the Warriors are somewhat short of cover at centre, although Alex Dunbar is a more than adequate replacement for Pete Horne or Nick Grigg if required. But these absences are counterbalanced by the availability of Kebble, who after missing much of the last campaign is set to be a key player in the pack this time round.
“It’s good to start him in round one,” Rennie continued. “He’s a big man, very powerful, a very strong scrummager. We didn’t get an enormous amount out of him last season because of injury, so we’re excited. There are a few big men in our squad who we probably didn’t get a lot of game time from last year, guys like Brian Alainu’uese, and Oli is one of those as well. He’s got himself in good nick, so we’re looking for a lot from him.”
It is the third year running that the Warriors have gone to Galway for the first fixture of the season, and they won on their previous two visits. But, with a new coach in Andy Friend and impressive pre-season wins over Brive, Wasps and Bristol, Connacht are going into this campaign very much reinvigorated. The relative slump that followed their PRO12 triumph of 2015 may well now be over for the Irish province, and if Glasgow are to make it three wins in a row at the Sportsground they will have to improve significantly on their own last pre-season outing, the heavy defeat at Franklin’s Gardens.
“They’ve stressed opponents so far,” Rennie added. “”We’ll give them some respect, because we’re aware of their threats, but we think there are a couple of places where we can target them. It’s a challenging place to come to in round one, but we’re ready to go. It’s been a long time preparing for this.”
A long time preparing, and a long time reflecting on what went wrong last year, as the Warriors faded badly after being on fire in the autumn. “We learnt that it doesn’t matter how well you start, it’s how you finish,” Rennie added. “That doesn’t mean we don’t want to start well, because you’ve got to do so in this competition, but we got ourselves in a good spot last year and didn’t finish off.
“We’ve got to make sure we’ve got a full squad to choose from, that we’ve got competition for places and that we’re really fresh and enthusiastic in the latter part of the year. We lacked a little bit of edge last year so we’re discussing how we change that for this year.”
Glasgow Warriors (v Connacht at The Sportsground, Saturday, 3pm, live on Premier Sports 1): S Hogg; T Seymour, N Grigg, P Horne, D van der Merwe; A Hastings, G Horne; O Kebble, G Turner, Z Fagerson, S Cummings, J Gray, R Harley, C Gibbins, R Wilson. Substitutes: F Brown, A Allan, D Rae, A Ashe, C Fusaro, N Frisby, A Dunbar, N Matawalu.
Connacht: T O’Halloran; C Kelleher, K Godwin, T Farrell, M Healy; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham, U Dillane, J Cannon, P Boyle, J Butler, E McKeon. Substitutes: S Delahunt, P McCabe, C Carey, Q Roux, C Gallagher, J Mitchell, C Ronaldson, N Adeolokun.