Looking at the Glasgow Warriors squad on their official website, you wonder if the webmasters have deliberately not removed the latest batch of departures so that you could still draw up a theoretical match day 23.
Tim Swinson, Ruairidh Jackson and record-holding try-scorer DTH van der Merwe have called time on their playing careers. Swinson is studying law and will likely continue with his role as a players’ union representative, DTH has often spoke of his admiration for the fire service, while Jackson has his artisanal gin company and Bond-villain-moustache twiddling to look forward to. We wish them well in their future endeavours.
Jonny Gray’s move to Exeter has been completed, and Andrew Davidson’s move along the M8 to join Edinburgh leaves Glasgow with only Scott Cummings, Kiran McDonald, and the returning Richie Gray as recognised locks, with the latter two so familiar to the treatment table that they’ve been offered a rewards card. Davidson will be fighting for a place in the Edinburgh boiler-room along with Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist, Lewis Carmichael and Calum Hunter-Hill.
Rob Harley can fill in at lock, but that leaves another jersey to be filled in the back-row. As had been assumed, co-captain and fan favourite Callum “Cully” Gibbins has followed his coaching compatriots out the door, and Matt Smith has been released.
When Smith’s departure was announced, Dave Rennie stated that he played in a position where the Warriors had “considerable depth”, but with Gibbins announcing his departure soon afterwards, it leaves only Tom Gordon and Chris Fusaro who count openside as their first-choice position.
Perhaps this could facilitate a return to the back-row for Fraser Brown or George Turner, because if it’s hookers you’re after, Glasgow have them by a comparative bucketful.
Along with Brown and Turner, there’s Grant Stewart, Fijian international Mesu Delokoto and Johnny Matthews, so assuming that Brown and/or Turner are away on international duty, that’s one gap that can be filled with relative ease.
The other front-row positions are reasonably well-stacked. On the loosehead side, there’s the all-action Aki Seiuli and soon to be Scottish-qualified Oli Kebble battling it out for the #1 jersey, with Alex Allan, Charlie Capps and George Thornton providing back-up. Gordon Reid – everyone’s favourite Irn-Bru slurping superhero – can also be called upon from Ayrshire Bulls if the occasion so warrants.
One piece of confirmed transfer business is over on the other side of the scrum, where Argentine tight-head Enrique Pieretto will make the long drive up from Exeter to keep the ever-improving Zander Fagerson on his toes. Pieretto replaces Siua “The Nuke” Halanokonuka, who has been released from his contract one year early after an injury blighted spell at the club. D’Arcy Rae and Adam Nicol provide back-up, but what may be of concern is that during a player shortage in February, Dave Rennie started Kebble at tighthead rather than Nicol. Ewen McQuillin and Gaston Cortes were signed on short term deals, but those were shortened further still by the coronavirus outbreak, and no news has yet reached us of their longer-term futures.
There are no issues at scrum-half, where Ali Price and George “Horneito” Horne – recent winner of the club’s Player of the Season award for the second time in three seasons – battle it out for the jersey at both club and international level. Young Player of the Season Jamie Dobie is now confirmed as their first-choice back-up (if that isn’t a paradox) following the departure of Nick Frisby.
The only problem with the centres is picking a first-choice combo. When fit, Sam Johnson would be most right-minded people’s option at 12, with one of Nick Grigg, Huw Jones and Kyle Steyn outside. Steyn can also play winger, but another issue surfaces therein.
Glasgow’s outside back options are dwindling. As well as DTH and Jackson having retired, Rory Hughes has left the club. Tommy Seymour, Niko Matawalu and Lee Jones are all over 30 years of age. Ratu Tagive has only made 11 appearances in over three years at the club, and for all his athletic prowess, Robbie Nairn hasn’t really kicked on as had been hoped.
At a fan event towards the end of 2019, Dave Rennie had stated that when looking to replace Stuart Hogg, they had failed to find anyone within budget who was better than the options they already had. The answer? Bring back Glenn Bryce, a player deemed surplus to requirements at Glasgow three years earlier.
Richie Gray’s return is part of a wider recurring theme of former Warriors coming back to see out their careers, which begs the question: who’s in charge of recruitment these days?
It was a question we were hoping to ask during a conference call with SRU Chief Executive Mark Dodson on Thursday 11th June, however there was no room at the inn for us.
Scott Johnson, for all his perceived flaws, had a powerful little black book of southern hemisphere connections which brought Vern Cotter, Dave Rennie, Leone Nakarawa and Villiame Mata, to name but a few, to Scottish shores.
Even discounting the importance of some of the players that have left over the years, there was no like-for-like replacement of Hogg or Russell, Glasgow have simply carried on with what they have. Hastings for Russell has worked, but Brandon Thomson and Pete Horne are then a significant drop-off in quality when Hastings is on international duty. Horne Sr. could even still find himself alongside Hastings on the international scene in his more natural position of inside-centre.
The pandemic has of course affected proceedings, but this unbalanced squad is not borne of a three-month delay. The rumour mill may not spin briskly in Glasgow – more often than not business is dealt with quickly and quietly – but fans can only hope that behind the scenes the sails are going like the clappers so that Danny Wilson doesn’t inherit a stagnating squad.