WITH Sunday afternoon’s away match against Leinster nothing more than a dead-rubber in terms of Glasgow Warriors’ chances of qualifying for the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup, a number of frontline players are set to be given the weekend off, while some of the club’s fringe squad members will be handed a chance to stake a claim for a more central role in the push for PRO14 glory.
Finn Russell and Jonny Gray will definitely sit out the trip to Dublin; but the good news for Warriors and Scotland fans is that Stuart Hogg is a serious contender to be part of the action if he is able to prove his fitness by Friday.
The full-back, who has been side-lined since injuring his hip flex during the warm-up to Scotland’s match against Australia last November, is on the precipice of making his comeback, and assistant coach Jonathan Humphreys reckons that if the 25-year-old doesn’t make it this week then he will be in the side which hosts Exeter Chiefs the following Saturday.
“I think we’re going to leave that one late,” said Humphreys when asked yesterday about Hogg’s prospects of playing this weekend. “We won’t make a decision until probably Friday on that. We obviously don’t want to take a risk so if he’s right he’ll play and if not he won’t.”
“He’s making good progress. I think he should be right, if not this weekend then hopefully next week – so it’s close,” the Welshman added.
While the coaching teams at both the Warriors and Scotland will be at pains to ensure that they don’t rush such a valuable asset back into action too quickly, they will also be aware the clock is ticking ahead of the start of the Six Nations. The Chiefs game will be Hogg’s last chance of a hit out before the championship kicks off against Wales in Cardiff on 3rd February.
“We are desperately keen to get him back. Scotland are desperately keen to have him playing in the Six Nations. Every caution will be taken with him. It would be nice for him to have a game under his belt before he goes [into the Scotland camp] and hopefully that will be the case,” acknowledged Humphreys.
Another internationalist hoping to make his comeback this weekend is hooker George Turner who is available again after serving a four week-ban for an off-the-ball shoulder charge against Montpellier last month.
Tight-head prop Zander Fagerson is out for eight to ten weeks with a foot injury picked up in training, but as one door closes than another opens for D’Arcy Rae, who has been involved with the Warriors squad for the last four years but has been limited to just 12 starts and 27 appearances off the bench.
With Simon Berghan destined to miss the Wales game through suspension and WP Nel in a race to get back from a broken arm in time for Scotland’s third game of the tournament against England 24th February, Rae could very easily end up playing a key role in Scotland’s Six Nations campaign.
The other leading contenders for the number three jersey are: Jon Welsh, the former Warriors and current Newcastle Falcons player, who has the experience of 11 Scotland caps to his name and the battle hardness of having started all 13 games his club have played in the Aviva Premiership so far this season on his side; or Murray McCallum, who is blossoming under Richard Cockerill at Edinburgh.
“Darcy has got lots of good qualities. He knows that there’s parts of his game he’s got to work on. He hasn’t had a huge amount of game time, hopefully in the next couple of weeks he’s going to get that – but there’s aspects of his game which are very, very good. It’s tough when you are trying to get up to speed but potentially he’s very good,” said Humphreys, in support of his player’s international prospects.
“The strong parts of his game are set-piece – he’s excellent at line-out and scrum – there’s a few little things outside that which he is working on at present, and hopefully that will make him the complete prop.”
Centre Alex Dunbar is in a similar situation to Hogg as he looks to comeback from a knee injury.
“He’s not far away. If not this week then hopefully next,” said Humphreys.