Glasgow Warriors will hand a debut to Kyle Rowe in one of four changes to their team to face Connacht tomorrow.

Glasgow cemented their billing as contenders to win the URC by scoring seven tries against Leinster in their season opener at Scotstoun last weekend. Connacht will be without their three Ireland internationals, including Mack Hansen, due to IRFU protocols but Glasgow will welcome back Sione Vailanu, Richie Gray and debutant Rowe - while George Horne starts after making his 100th Warriors appearance from the bench against Leinster. 

Scotland international Howe arrived from London Irish in the summer and head coach Franco Smith insists he deserves his chance as Glasgow targets back-to-back wins.

‘We’re all very excited to see him play,” Smith said. “I’m pleased for him because he’s had to overcome quite a lot of injury issues.

‘He’s had a good pre-season with us and he deserves a chance to play this week. It’ll be good to see him play and see how he adapts. It’ll be good to see the freedom and the way he expresses himself. Continuity is important now. It was just the start last week and I always said the first three or four games form part of pre-season.

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“Things get better, people get toughened up and battle-hardened. But you also want to introduce the new guys to the system we’ve been using. We want to take all of those ingredients into this match. It’s obviously quite a short turnaround. It’s the same next week with only a six-day turnaround.” 

Oli Kebble was one of several impressive performers against Leinster as the fans’ favourite produced a commanding display at prop. The 31-year-old was left out for the Challenge Cup final defeat to Toulon last season but Smith has praised his professionalism across pre-season.

“He struggled in pre-season last year and was hampered by a lot of injury problems when I arrived here in August,” admitted Smith.

“He just got going and then suffered another injury with his shoulder. Then when you get to the Christmas period, it’s tough to really get a player up to speed if they’ve not had a proper pre-season.

“But Oli has worked really hard. I had a good chat with him after the [Challenge Cup] Final last season.I thought he was one of the guys who should be available to be picked and he was obviously disappointed that he missed out.

“So he came back motivated in pre-season and looks rejuvenated. He looks fitter, faster and stronger and injury-free at the moment. I challenge all the players to be better and Oli is one of them. Every player has looked introspectively and at what they can do. I don’t want to put any extra pressure on Oli. I just want him to keep finding his feet and embracing the way we play.”

Experience lock Gray also returns in a sign of Glasgow’s squad strength and Smith formulated a strategy for his returning internationals earlier this summer.

“This has been planned a long time ago,” Smith confirmed. “Richie gets better the more he plays and with the way we manage his training. He’s had a good break. He’s an old head and we know how to manage him. It was planned a long time ago in terms of how we brought him back.

“With the players coming back from the World Cup, we need to manage the guys whilst also keeping the rest of the squad fresh and enthusiastic.”

Glasgow will be favourites to win against Connacht but Smith is expecting a tough contest despite the Irish side missing key players. Connacht beat Ulster to reach the URC semi-finals last season and they’ll be prepared to face a hometown favourite in Warriors assistant coach Nigel Carolan.

“Connacht are a very good side,” Smith admitted. “The most impressive game they played last year was against Ulster when they turned them over 12 times at the breakdown. Their attitude and the way they went about that was extraordinary. They were very well-organised at the set-pieces last year and they stopped us in certain areas of the pitch. We’ve got the utmost respect for them as a team and we know that they’ve got a three-game run at home, which means that they’d like to build an innings at the start of the season. 

“We expect an enormous challenge and Nigel Carolan comes from there, so I’m sure they’d like to give him a present. I have the utmost respect for their team and coaching group. There’s enough continuity from last year and the experience they picked up in the quarter and semi-finals [of the URC] will stand them in good favour. They will want to improve in some areas from last week against Ospreys and we expect a tough game.”

Glasgow XV: J McKay; K Rowe, H Jones, S McDowall, K Steyn, T Jordan, G Horne; O Kebble, A Fraser, Z Fagerson, S Cummings, R Gray, G Brown, S Vialanu, H Venter. 

Substitutes:J Matthews, N McBeth, L Sordoni, G Peterson, A Miller, R Darge,J Dobie, D Weir.