GLASGOW Warriors are expected to announce the recruitment of a new squad member today, and it will not be giant South African lock JP du Preez, who was linked to the club over the weekend.
While it is entirely possible that 6ft 10ins du Preez will head to Scotstoun when his current deal with Sale Sharks runs out at the end of the season, it is anticipated that today’s news will relate to someone who is able to add depth to the squad sooner than that.
On the basis that Warriors are facing a mini second-row crisis at the moment, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the new face belongs to someone who can help plug the gap created by the current unavailability through injury of Scott Cummings (ruled out of action last week for up to two months due to a hand injury), Kiran McDonald (who suffered kidney damage at the start of September and has been ruled out for an unspecified period of time) and Hamish Bain (who hasn’t featured yet this season following surgery on his shoulder during the summer).
As it stands, Richie Gray, Lewis Bean and Rob Harley are the only recognised second-rows currently available in the senior squad, with the next two cabs off the rank being Academy prospects Alex Samuel, Max Williamson – both aged 19 – who have yet to make their competitive debuts for the club (although Williamson was involved in the club’s pre-season matches against Newcastle Falcons and Worcester Warriors).
Generally speaking, Warriors are in pretty good shape at the moment. In three league games played so far they have picked up two points during a narrow loss away to Ulster followed by back-to-back wins at home against the Sharks and the Lions. That means they sit fourth in the United Rugby Championship’s overall league table and top of the ‘Italian/Scottish Shield’ mini league, ahead of taking on Zebre in Parma this weekend.
The Italians are the only side to have lost all three matches in the competition to date, and with Scotland’s first match of their Autumn schedule against Tonga just a fortnight away we are likely to see some senior Warriors players rested. However, assistant coach Pete Murchie insisted yesterday that this should not be taken of evidence of the Scottish side taking the challenge they face lightly.
“You are always trying to get that balance between giving guys opportunities where they are earned and trying to get wins,” he said.
“We have made changes through these first three games, and there is also the Scotland element where some players are managed.
“So, we’ll have a look at selection this weekend, but if you go away to Zebre and make too many changes because you think it is in the bag, then history tells us you are likely to come unstuck.
“I know they haven’t had a great start to this year, but they are a dangerous team,” he continued. “They’ve got guys like Carlo Canna playing at 10, and if you aren’t on your game then he’s got the ability to rip you apart.
“A couple of guys will come in, potentially, but we won’t be making wholesale changes. We know we will have to play well.”
The rather complicated structure of the URC means that Glasgow (and every other team in the competition) are effectively fighting battles on two fronts. Winning their regional pool (the ‘Italian/Scottish Shield’ in Glasgow’s case) means qualification to next years’ Champions Cup, and there are also four European spots up for grabs in the overall league for the highest finishers who have not won their regional pool.
The top eight finishers on the overall league also qualify for the end of season knock-out play-offs, with the prize of being crowned URC Champions up for grabs.
“I do think with the way the competition is set up it does put more emphasis on the importance of these games against teams in your pool,” said Murchie. “If you get those wins it does help you put daylight between you and them. At the same time there is a wider competition as well and we want to be competing up at the top end and to do that we’re going to have to win games.
“Away in Italy is always tricky so we are going to have to play well this weekend. They maybe haven’t had the start they wanted but it looks like after the [weakened] team they selected against Leinster means they’ll go again properly at this one. We’re going to have to play well and, if we win, it obviously puts us in a good position in our pool and in the big table.”
Murchie added that Scotland prop Oli Kebble is one player who could come back into contention this week, having missed the start of the campaign whilst recovering from ankle surgery.
Meanwhile, Ali Price and Zander Fagerson continue to ease themselves back towards full match fitness following their post-Lions tour break but are not expected to play until Warriors’ home match against Leinster a week on Friday, meaning they will have just one game before Scotland take on Tonga.