Glasgow have a fitter, stronger and even faster Stuart Hogg back after his injury sabbatical to help them bounce back to a European Champions’ Cup win over Leinster at Scotstoun.
Out since he fractured a cheekbone playing for the British Lions in New Zealand in June, the double Six Nations Player of the Year also underwent surgery to his shoulder to clear up a long-standing problem.
The extra two months of rehab have allowed Hogg to lose weight, gain strength and amazingly for a player already known as one of the quickest in world rugby, increase speed.
“Hoggy is very infectious, a ball of energy and he is great for the group,” said head coach Dave Rennie. “He was pretty determined to be in the mix at Exeter last week, but we just wanted to make sure his introduction was right.
“He’s got himself into the best nick of his life, he has broken the club record speed test just last week; he ran 36.8 kmh, just over 10 metres a second., That’s incredible. He has dropped a lot of weight so he is a lot leaner.”
The time off may be better for Hogg and Glasgow – and Scotland – in the short term and the long term.
“We’ve been able to really personalise his return to play and a lot of that is about getting him more powerful and explosive and leaner and faster,” continued Rennie. “Hoggy has always been quick; he’s just quicker than he’s ever been now.
“It’s great to have him and he’s very excited. No doubt he will be a bit rusty in some areas, but he’s a quality player and we expect him to come out and perform well.”
Glasgow’s back three of Hogg, Seymour and Leonardo Sarto looks like a choice unit, with the Italian returning to the scene of his heroic performance against Munster, when he played much of the game with an ankle injury but scored one try and set up another.
“Leo’s performance against Munster was phenomenal, so we’re keen to get him out there and ask some questions of Leinster’s defence,” said Rennie. “We’ve lost Rory Hughes for the season but there’s still great competition for places with Lee Jones playing so well and Lelia Masaga returning from injury hopefully for the next week.”
Rennie believes this week was already a must-win even before the loss at Exeter, where failure to get a bonus point might be an issue in the end in this tight pool.
“I think in this competition you need to win your home games and pick up a couple away from home,” he said. “We can take a lot of confidence from what we’ve done in the past seven weeks.
“We just know it’s going to be brutal, Leinster have got a very strong ability to put you in the corner – 16 of their 22 tries have come from starting inside the opposition 22, so territory is a big part of their game.”
The three-time champions from Ireland have recalled Jonny Sexton, Cian Healy and Sean Cronin to their starting li9ne-up.
“Sexton is very experienced, he has been a great player for Ireland for many years and for Leinster,” continued Rennie. “He has a massive influence on their side and we’re going to have to put him under a bit of heat and hopefully unsettle their rhythm.”
Rennie hasn’t had to lift the squad after last week’s firstg loss of the season.
“The attitude has been brilliant, really good energy throughout the week. We’ve trained really well and the guys are excited.
“We were disappointed we didn’t get the job done down there, because we know if we could have done some things better it could have had a difference.
“We fell short in some key areas. We’re not getting down about that. It’s another challenge and another opportunity this week.”
Glasgow will be missing two key men for the next 8-10 weeks, with both Fraser Brown and Brian Alainu’uese out with knee injuries. Brown’s injury, sustained last week against Exeter, will mean he probably misses Scotland’s autumn international campaign.
Glasgow (vs Leinster, European Rugby Champions’ Cup, Scotstoun, ko 1pm, live on Sky Sports): Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Sam Johnson, Peter Horne, Leonardo Sarto; Finn Russell, Ali Price; Jamie Bhatti, George Turner, Zander Fagerson; Tim Swinson, Jonny Gray; Ryan Wilson (capt), Callum Gibbins, Adam Ashe.
Replacements: Pat MacArthur, Alex Allan, D’Arcy Rae, Scott Cummings, Rob Harley, Henry Pyrgos, Nick Grigg, Lee Jones.