GLASGOW WARRIORS have not yet played their second competitive game of the season, but the importance of squad depth is already clear, with minor injuries to in-form flanker Rory Darge, veteran stand-off Duncan Weir and Scotland international tight-head prop Simon Berghan forcing head coach Danny Wilson’s hand for three of the five changes he has made to the starting XV ahead of this afternoon’s clash against the Cell C Sharks at Scotstoun.
Wilson has backed the players who have come in as replacements to deliver the level of performance required if Warriors are to bounce back from their United Rugby Championship opening weekend defeat in Ulster last Friday – although he admitted that options are now pretty thin on the ground in terms of tight-head props.
“Rory was selected originally but he has a knee issue, not a major one but enough that he has not fully recovered and he could not train yesterday,” explained Wilson. “We have Tom Gordon ready to go and he has been training all week, so it is good that our squad is robust enough to deal with situations like this.
“We’ve got a lot of trust in Tom, and he gets an opportunity to put some pressure on Rory, who has been outstanding for a few weeks now.
“Duncan has not quite recovered from a concussion [suffered against Ulster],” Wilson continued. “He got right to the end stage of training yesterday but had a couple of symptoms, nothing major, that made us think: ‘Let’s leave it this week so he is right for next week’.
“With Duncan not training at the start of the week we would have made the decision anyway to go with Ross Thompson to start and Duncan on the bench. Now, with Duncan not making it, Pete Horne – who has a lot of experience – comes in as cover instead.
“We went into the Ulster game with Duncan [at stand-off] because it suited our tactics in that game, and his performances in pre-season probably just edged it, but Ross has plenty behind him from his performances at the tail end of last year which gives us confidence in him.”
As well as Berghan being unavailable this week with an achilles injury, Zander Fagerson is still resting after a busy summer touring South Africa with the British and Irish Lions, Enrique Pieretto is away on international duty with Argentina (he flies back from Australia on Monday) and Oli Kebble (who can play both tight and loose-head) is injured.
That means Murray McCallum, who joined Warriors on a short-term contract during the summer, starts in the No3 jersey, with 21-year-old academy prospect Murphy Walker in line for a debut off the bench, having missed the entirety of last season with a ripped hamstring.
“This is a great opportunity for Murray,” said Wilson. “He was at Edinburgh quite a long time and probably didn’t get the amount of game-time he was capable of or deserved.
“I’ve been impressed with him so far. He’s worked hard, made improvements as the games have gone on which is a really good sign, and he’s a character. All the Scottish boys know each other very well and he’s settled in pretty quickly.
“Murphy has gone well in training, so he gets the opportunity and hopefully takes that opportunity,” Wilson added. “It is a bit of a baptism of fire against a big South African pack but one we are excited about, and it will grow our depth again.
“We were a couple of props down on last week and still thought our scrum was pretty solid as a whole. I am sure Murphy will take his opportunity. And when you think we have Zander, Oli and the likes of Enrique to come back it is exciting where we will be.”
The other two changes to the starting side are at hooker and loose-head prop with the experienced duo of Fraser Brown Jamie Bhatti taking over from Johnny Matthews and Brad Thyer.
Meanwhile, back-row Ally Miller – another former Edinburgh player to have moved west in search of more regular game time – is set to make his debut for the club off the bench.
Wilson admitted that he doesn’t know an awful lot about what to expect from the Sharks – who are one of four South African former Super Rugby teams to have joined the league this season – but he is expecting a big challenge from the Durban-based outfit, regardless of their Springboks being away on Rugby Championship duty at the moment.
“From what we’ve looked at, they’ve played a Currie Cup final with the same personnel and they’ve played against Munster, so they’re the games we’ve looked at in most detail,” he said. “They have some real dangermen in wide channels who can score a try from nothing. So, we’ve got to be aware of that.
“There is some real depth in South African rugby. Yes, there is a Springboks squad playing at the moment, and it means there are a couple of big guns not there, but I still think this is a dangerous outfit and we’ll need to be right on top of our game.
“But it’s a home match and it’s one we target to win.”
Glasgow Warriors (v Sharks Scotstoun Stadium on Saturday 2nd October @ 3.05pm): C Forbes; K Steyn, S Tuipulotu, S Johnson, R McLean; R Thompson, G Horne; J Bhatti, F Brown, M McCallum, S Cummings, R Gray, R Wilson©, T Gordon, J Dempsey. Substitutes: G Turner, B Thyer, M Walker, L Bean, A Miller, J Dobie, P Horne, S McDowall.
Sharks: C Bosch; Y Penxe, W Kok, M Koster, T Abrahams; B Chamberlain, R Pienaar; K Mona, F Mbatha, T du Toit©, L Roets, R van Heerden, D Richardson, G Grobler, P Buthelezi©. Substitutes: K van Vuuren, N Mchunu, L Adriaanse, H Andrews, T Bholi, J Venter, T Meyer, J Ward.