DANNY Wilson believes that the four Scotland squad members who have been released back to play for Glasgow Warriors this afternoon are in the right frame of mind for the challenge of taking on Connacht in Galway.
Rufus McLean, Kyle Steyn and Sione Tuipulotu will populate the Warriors back-line, with prop Jamie Bhatti on the bench. Their availability suggests that they are not likely to feature in next weekend’s Six Nations opener against England at Twickenham, but Wilson says he is confident that the players will view today’s match as an opportunity to push their case for international honours at some point in the championship.
“I think they’ve all come back motivated with the message from the Scotland coaching team being: ‘go back and play well and we’ll be watching you’,” said the coach.
“Let’s take Sione moving from outside to inside centre for us, that’s an opportunity for him to really put his hand up from a Scotland point of view and show that he’s got that versatility.
“And Rufus needs game time because he’s not played a lot recently due to Covid issues and a few other bits and pieces, so this is an opportunity for him to get back out there. Treviso [at the end of November] had been the last he had played up until last weekend against La Rochelle. That’s a long gap. He is a young man, and he needs to be out there playing rugby to find and keep the form we saw from him in the autumn.”
“So, I think there is still huge motivation for these guys to come back and play well,” Wilson added. “The swapping of environments later in the week is the tricky bit, but they have been with us for a long time now so I’m confident they will cope.”
Meanwhile, seven Warriors players – Scott Cummings, Rory Darge, Matt Fagerson, Zander Fagerson, Sam Johnson, Ali Price and George Turner – have been wrapped in cottonwool by national head coach Gregor Townsend this weekend in preparation for the Calcutta Cup game in seven days’ time.
Wilson has made eight changes to the starting XV he sent out against La Rochelle last week but has still managed to select 12 internationalists. Ross Thompson drops to the bench with veteran Duncan Weir being given a start at stand-off, and with Fraser Brown, Richie Gray, Ryan Wilson and Jack Dempsey all in the pack there is plenty of experience up-front as well.
Meanwhile, 21-year-old Ollie Smith has been rewarded with his first start of the season at full-back in place of Josh McKay who has an ankle injury, which is a fair reward for the big impact he made off the bench last weekend when scoring two late consolation tries against La Rochelle.
“Ollie is an example of the next one we’re hoping is going to come through,” said Wilson. “He’s spent some time on his conditioning and he’s put on some good size physically from being in the gym.
“He’s probably lacked a little bit of rugby this season so now we have an opportunity to play him.
“He’s the next of that young group who have come through this season after the likes of Rory, Rufus, and Ross Thompson, so hopefully he can follow in their footsteps by taking his opportunity.”
After back-to-back defeats in Europe during the last fortnight, today’s return to United Rugby Championship action is an opportunity for Warriors to get their season back on track.
“We’re joint third in the league at the moment and to get an away win is massive for anybody at the moment because it is all very tight,” added Wilson.
“So, if we can managed that against a team who have played very well at home, and who lose the least number of players to Ireland out of the provinces during these international windows, then that would be a real positive.
“The weather seems to be getting better because the original forecast at the start of the week was 40mph winds and raining right the way through the game.
“But that seems to be getting better, so hopefully we can play some rugby.”
Meanwhile, prop Ewan McQuillan has headed south on loan to English Championship side Ampthill, as he looks to pick up game time after a lengthy lay-off with a calf injury
“They needed a tighthead prop and we had one who is back fit after a long time injured so it’s a good opportunity for him,” said Wilson.
Glasgow Warriors (v Connacht at The Sportsground, Saturday 2.55pm): O Smith; S Cancelliere, K Steyn, S Tuipulotu, R McLean; D Weir, G Horne; O Kebble, F Brown (Co-Captain), E Pieretto, K McDonald, R Gray, R Wilson, T Gordon, J Dempsey. Replacements: J Matthews, J Bhatti, S Berghan, L Bean, A Miller, J Dobie, R Thompson, S McDowall.