FROM famine to feast in the blink of an eye, Danny Wilson has been able to add 10 Scotland squad members to his match-day 23 for tonight’s Challenge Cup last 16 clash in Montpellier, with the coach desperate for his Glasgow Warriors team to finish a frustrating season with a flourish.

Loose-head Oli Kebble, tight-head Zander Fagerson, second-row Rob Harley and No8 Ryan Wilson boost the starting pack, while hooker George Turner will aim to raise the energy and aggression levels when he comes off the bench. Behind the scrum, Ali Price and Adam Hastings take over the half-back slots, while Sam Johnson is at inside centre, Rufus McLean is on the right wing and Huw Jones is at full-back.

While Harley and McLean did not play for Scotland last weekend, they travelled with the squad to Paris so were not available for Warriors.

It is as close to a full-strength side as Wilson could hope to field at this stage of the season with only four players who might have started unavailable. Matt Fagerson hurt his ankle during the build-up to last weekend’s international, Scott Cummings has a hand injury, Tommy Seymour is still struggling with a concussion and Kyle Steyn hasn’t played this season due to a hamstring problem.

Given the number of changes, it is inevitable that there will be some rough edges in tonight’s performance, but Wilson is banking on the players’ experience and general familiarity with each other to see them through.

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“The proof of the pudding will be in how we start the game,” he acknowledged. “The first 20 minutes always tells you where your boys are at, but they seem to be in a really good place. We’ve only had one main training day, which was Wednesday, so it is a shortish week, but they’ve jumped back in and are looking sharp.

“They are very good rugby players and I think they will gel again pretty quickly. To start that process, you have to get them out on the field and that’s what we'll do this weekend."

While 20-year-old full-back Ollie Smith and 19-year-old scrum-half Jamie Dobie miss out on this occasion, Wilson has brought 21-year-old McLean straight back into the side after scoring a 70-yard wonder try in his last appearance for the club a fortnight ago.

“Rufus is a good example of what we said months and months ago about promoting younger players and bringing them through at the right time if they deserve it,” said the coach. “He is a real attacking threat. The early part of the season was tough for him because he had a series of Covid absences from our environment. Now he has had a good run-in training and is performing well in games. I think he has earned the right to start among some of the big names and very experienced internationals we have brought in to play this fixture.

Meanwhile, Wilson has challenged 21-year-old stand-off Ross Thompson to make an impact off the bench.

“Ross has gone well week after week for us, but Adam Hastings is an extremely experienced 10 and probably adds a little bit of physicality as well, which we think will be important," explained Wilson. "Having Ross there to call upon gives us something off the bench with his left-footed kicking game and the threat that he brings.”

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“You need your game breakers, guys who can create something out of nothing, and a good example last week was Niko Matawalu," he added. "I think he came on and added massively. He had a quick-tap penalty and an awareness to set up a very good try that broke the game for us.

"What we need for the future is younger examples of that because experienced players come towards the end of their days at some point, and we have to bring the next crop through."

A win tonight would set-up a home quarter-final next weekend against Agen of France or Benetton of Italy. Both those team are winless so far this season in their respective domestic leagues, so that would represent a golden opportunity to progress to the last four of the Challenge Cup, and really open up the prospect of finishing the 2020-21 campaign with some silverware.

“We’re not going to get too far ahead of ourselves,” insisted Wilson. “If you had Montpellier away in the Champions Cup it would be a really tough fixture. Although they haven’t had their best league campaign, they beat Toulouse at the weekend and they’re a really good side. So, I know it’s a little bit clichéd, but we can’t look past this weekend.”

 

Glasgow Warriors (v Montpellier at GGL Stadium, Friday @8pm): H Jones; R McLean, N Grigg, S Johnson, L Jones; A Hastings, A Price; O Kebble, F Brown (c), Z Fagerson, R Gray, R Harley, F Lokotui, T Gordon, R Wilson. Substitutes: G Turner, D Evans, E Pieretto, L Nakarawa, T Ioane, G Horne, R Thompson, N Matawalu.

Montpellier: A Bouthier; J Goosen, A Vincent, J Serfontein, V Rattez,; A Lozowski, C Reinach; E Forletta, G Guirado©, M Haouas, F Verhaeghe, B Chalureau, N Janse van Rensburg, Y Camara, A Becognee. Substitutes: B Du Plessis, R Rodgers, T Lamositele, M  Devergie, C Timu, J Danglot, Y Reilhac ,J Tisseron.