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Big changes forced on Warriors for Italy test as Jonny Gray’s summer exit is confirmed

Brothers George (L) and Pete Horne are Glasgow's half-back pairing this weekend.
Brothers George (L) and Pete Horne are Glasgow's half-back pairing this weekend.

Jonny Gray’s departure from Glasgow to Exeter Chiefs at the end of this season was confirmed by the clubs yesterday as the Warriors start a pivotal section of their faltering season.

The 52-times capped lock forward, still only 25, has signed a two-year deal to play with the Chiefs in the Gallagher Premiership, joining another former Warrior and Scotland international, Stuart Hogg, who moved there this summer.

Gray will not travel to Italy for Glasgow’s first hit-out of 2020 at Benetton which has to be the start of a concerted run of wins if they are to keep alive hopes of a Guinness PRO14 play-off place.

The Warriors have lost five games in the season already and left themselves not much wiggle room, but the compacted schedule of Heineken Champions Cup games – they have a must-win next week against Exeter in that competition – due to the World Cup means that wholesale changes have to be made to keep within the senior players’ management protocols.

That means Gray, Scott Cummings, Fraser Brown and Zander Fagerson all stand down for the trip to Treviso.

“It is what it is, we’ve known about it for a long time and we’ve planned accordingly,” said head coach Dave Rennie of his much changed team. “Obviously with Europe being a bit different this year we’ve had some big games stacked up on top of each other.

“We’ve just had a couple of really big 1872 Cup games against Edinburgh, so we were always going to have to rest a few guys this week so we can be full strength next week in what will obviously be a must-win against Exeter.”

Benetton might be similarly a must-win, and there’s been a discussion amongst the squad as to where they stand in the league.

“As a group, we’ve had a chat about where we’re at and what we need to do to make sure we’re in the play-offs,”  continued Rennie. “It’s still very much in our hands. But yeah – we need to start winning, don’t we?

‘We are taking a good side over to Italy. Benetton are a good team and they’ll be

desperate for the win as well. They’re a bit like us – they got off to a really slow start during the World Cup.

“They’ve got a really good maul – all six tries they scored last week started from five metres out. So that’s a real weapon for them.”

Meanwhile Leone Nakarawa was at his first session at Scotstoun yesterday morning but it will be at least a couple of weeks before they assess where he is in terms of fitness.

“He had a few issues around planes and cyclones in Fiji, but he’s arrived and he looks in pretty good nick,” said Rennie. “We’ll start getting him back into things. Once we get clarity on where he’s at physically, we’ll start making decisions around that.

“As for next week, the first thing is we need to make sure he’s ready to go. He’s got a lot to learn in terms of our line-outs and his role within the structures.

“But he’s a smart man and we think he’ll be able to slot in seamlessly. This time next week, we’ll have a clearer picture.”

With Nakarawa only signed until the end of the season and Gray leaving, Rennie has little involvement in retention and recruitment as he is departing himself for the Wallabies in May.

“I’m talking to a lot of guys constantly. From a recruitment and retention point of view now, it’s Danny’s (Wilson) job, but I’m still talking to players.

“There’s no doubt that there is demand for Jonny as there always is for our top players each year.

“Leone staying longer is a decision for Danny and Glasgow, but he’s really excited to be back. Obviously the fact that he’s been here before, he’s really tight with Ryan Wilson and Niko Matawalu and I think they were constantly pestering him when he was talking abut departing form Racing.

“He’s got a lot of good mates here, he enjoys the culture and our job is to get him playing really well for us. Hopefully he really enjoys it and wants to stay longer but, as you know, with someone like him, there’s massive demand and huge sums of money involved.”

The Horne brothers will link up at half-back in Treviso, with a wholly new front row, a recast back row and Kyle Steyn and Nick Grigg returning to the backs.

Coach Petrus du Plessis will cover tight-head on the bench with Zander Fagerson rested and Adam Nicol making a rare start.

Glasgow team (vs Benetton, ko 1pm GMT) Ruaridh Jackson; Kyle Steyn, Nick Grigg, Sam Johnson, Niko Matawalu; Peter Horne, George Horne; Aki Seuili, George Turner, Adam Nicol; Rob Harley, Tim Swinson; Bruce Flockhart, Tom Gordon, Ryan Wilson (capt). Replacements: Grant Stewart, Oli Kebble, Petrus du Plessis, Andrew Davidson, Chris Fusaro, Nick Frisby, Huw Jones, Glenn Bryce.

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