Gregor Townsend will welcome so many players back from their sickbeds for tonight's RaboDirect PRO12 match with Leinster at Scotstoun that you almost wonder if the Glasgow Warriors coach managed to fit in a squad outing to Lourdes and a pep talk from Lazarus during the international rugby window of the past two weekends.
Only a few weeks ago, the prospect of injury-ravaged Glasgow taking on the Heineken Cup champions would have filled most fans of the club with dread. Instead, they are more likely to relish the thought of watching their side go for a seventh successive win in the competition with a squad bolstered by the return of DTH Van der Merwe, Pat MacArthur and Moray Low, and with another handful of players deemed surplus to requirements by national coach Andy Robinson.
As a consequence, and as a measure of the increased strength in depth Glasgow can now draw upon, Townsend is able to field a remarkably powerful side. When you have a back row of Rob Harley, Chris Fusaro and Josh Strauss, and a back three of Tommy Seymour, Van der Merwe and Peter Murchie, you are not exactly scraping the barrel when it comes to selection.
Loading article content
"It's good to see the guys coming back," acknowledged Townsend. "We still have two or three who are not quite there yet, but they are making good progress and should be available soon. That's going to be challenging in terms of keeping everyone happy, but if it improves competition for places then that has to be a good thing."
Yet there is one notable exception to the pattern. At the start of the season, Glasgow looked strongest of all at scrum-half, with a roster that included Chris Cusiter, Henry Pyrgos, Murray McConnell and Niko Matawalu, but all four are unavailable today. Pyrgos and Matawalu are on international duty with Scotland and Fiji respectively, while Cusiter and McConnell are still ruled out by injuries.
Step forward, then, young Sean Kennedy, the 21-year-old former Stirling County half-back who made an impressive Glasgow debut against Zebre last month and then backed it up with a cameo appearance as a replacement against Newport-Gwent Dragons. Townsend is not making comparisons, but he describes Kennedy as a player in the Cusiter mould, eager to break and with real pace when he gets going.
"I thought he was our best player against Zebre," Townsend said. "He's been with us since pre-season and he has been really impressive. The tests show that he's one of the fittest players in the country. I expect huge things of him."
George Graham, son of the eponymous former Scotland prop and forwards coach, provides bench cover for Kennedy. Graham has also been included in the Gala line-up to face Melrose on Saturday, and Townsend indicated that he would be used sparingly, if at all.
While Glasgow have been let off lightly by the international selectors, Leinster have been ravaged by Test demands. As Townsend pointed out, however, the Dublin outfit have strong cover in every area, and are almost incapable of putting out a poor side. On top of which, they have been strengthened by the return from injury of Sean O'Brien at No.8 and Isa Nacewa at full-back.
Townsend said: "Their squad is very strong. I had an interesting chat with [Leinster coach] Joe Schmidt recently and it was very impressive what he has done with the side. They are role models in just about everything they do, from the big crowds they pull to the way they play. You can't argue with their Heineken Cup record either."
While Townsend tries to extend a winning streak at one end of the M8, Michael Bradley is hoping to bring a losing run to an end at the other. Edinburgh have lost their last five PRO12 games, and their record looks even uglier when their two Heineken Cup losses, in which they failed to score a single point in 160 minutes of rugby, make things look even uglier. The capital side take on Ospreys at Murrayfield, and Bradley was not mincing his words when he talked of the importance of getting back to winning ways.
"There's no doubt we need a win from this game," said the Edinburgh head coach. "We know we are under pressure so a good result is important. But the two games against the Ospreys last year were both pretty close so I think we can go into this one with confidence.
"Ospreys are in the same position as we are with regard to players being unavailable due to the autumn internationals. I understand that they have a few injury issues as well. And our guys are pretty determined. There is a lot of confidence and belief in the squad at the moment and the players are really looking forward to this one."
Perhaps surprisingly, Bradley has included Ross Ford in his starting line-up following the hooker's demotion from the Scotland squad earlier this week. Ford's wife is due to give birth very shortly, and that combination of events suggested that he was more likely to be rested this weekend.
"Obviously, we are aware of Ross's family situation, so a change may have to be made at short notice," said Bradley. "I have spoken with Ross, although our conversations were all about Edinburgh rugby.
"I appreciate that he might have other things on his mind at the moment, but he assured me that he is happy and ready to play and I'm satisfied with that. It's a measure of the man that he is prepared to do that."