Finn Russell will make his return to competitive action for the first time since May while Gregor Townsend shuffles his Glasgow Warriors team for the top of the table clash with Cardiff Blues tonight.
Knocks to Henry Pyrgos, Sam Johnson and Simone Favaro have forced changes in the Warriors line-up for what is likely to be a near sellout at BT Sports Arms Park as two teams with maximum retuirns from their opening two Guinness PRO12 games go head-to-head.
But whatever the result there’s good news for Warriors and Scotland fans as Russell, absent since suffering a facial injury and concussion in the PRO12 semi-final against Connacht back in May will make his return playing for Ayr tomorrow in the BT Premiership against Hawick at Mansfield Park.
Townsend confirmed that Russell will be wearing a scrum cap this season “as a precaution”, and that his progress will be monitored closely by Warriors medical staff after his severe head injury in Connacht resulted in him being hospitalised by a week.
“Finn’s had two weeks of full contact in training and he can’t wait to get back into action,” added the head coach. Ayr is Russell’s allocated team through the club draft although he did play for the Millbrae side coming through the ranks and when they won the BT Premiership title in 2013.
Meanwhile the Warriors have lost co-captain Pyrgos (knee), centre Johnson (shoulder) and flanker Favaro (shoulder) to injuries from last week’s comeback win over Leinster for the trip to the Arms Park’s artificial pitch, a favourite venue of theirs in recent reasons.
Glasgow have won all four of the PRO12 matches since the Blues moved back to their ground in the shadow of the Millennium Stadium and haven’t lost a league game in the Welsh capital since November 2010.
Centre Nick Grigg will make his competitive debut at outside centre in place of Alex Dunbar with Peter Horne switching from stand-off to his more usual position at inside centre.
Grigg (24 next week) signed pro terms in May having come through the ranks with Stirling County and Scottish 7s after moving from his native New Zealand. Scottish-qualified, he starred in two pre-season fixtures.
Rory Clegg will start at scrum-half partnering Ali Price, while Lee Jones replaces the rested Leonardo Sarto on the wing.
In the pack Zander Fagerson starts at tight-head, while Josh Strauss makes his first appearance at No 8k, Ryan Wilson sliding over to cover Favaro’s absence. Another Scotland star, Mark Bennett, is on the bench set for his first appearance since his return form Rio with a silver medal from Team GB’s Olympic campaign.
“Josh has recovered from an ankle injury and Mark came back from Rio fit and hungry and it didn’t take him long to integrate himself back into the group,” said Townsend. “Cardiff have started the season very strongly and can score tries from anywhere. They have had excellent wins against Edinburgh and Munster and we’re going to need to improve defensively to get a positive result at the Arms Park tomorrow night.”
The Blues have left out wrecking ball Nick Williams but his replacement is Lions and Wales captain Sam Warburton, while the talented Matthew Morgan will start at full-back with Dan Fish ruled out.
Head coach Danny Wilson called the Warriors “the best team in the championship at the moment”. Tonight’s game oddly is not on TV and a near sellout crowd is expected at the Arms Park.
Glasgow Warriors (vs Cardiff Blues, BT Sport Arms Park, Guinness PRO12, tonight kick off 7pm)
Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Nick Grigg, Peter Horne, Lee Jones; Rory Clegg, Ali Price; Gordon Reid, Fraser Brown, Zander Fagerson; Tim Swinson, Jonny Gray (capt); Rob Harley, Ryan Wilson, Josh Strauss.
Replacements: Pat MacArthur, Alex Allan, Sila Puafisi, Greg Peterson, Lewis Wynne, Grayson Hart, Mark Bennett, Rory Hughes.