Gregor Townsend had plenty reason to be cheerful following Glasgow’s valedictory European Champions’ Cup victory over Exeter at Scotstoun, but one wonders if he didn’t also realise he’d made a mistake.
A head knock for Alex Dunbar and a leg injury to George Turner just might be of concern to the Scotland head coach. But he saw Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones and Finn Russell running exuberantly wild in open field, and all seems right with the world.
Allied to a performance of some gumption from a well underpowered Warriors pack, the 28-21 win was at least some restored pride for what’s been a rough campaign for Dave Rennie’s debut in European competition. Add in some of Edinburgh’s meatier forwards, and Scotland may not be as under-muscled for the forthcoming NatWest 6 Nations as some are assuming.
But hopefully Townsend also saw that his 40-strong squad named last week is blatantly missing one of the best form players in Scottish rugby.
The head coach referred specifically to George Horne when discussing his squad selection last week, clearly pre-prepared for any questions about the scrum-half. Townsend made clear that he hadn’t considered the younger Horne for an invitation to train with the squad going into the championship as he believed the player was already beyond that stage – he was a serious candidate to have been one of the four scrum-halves.
“George is playing regularly for Glasgow, there are parts of his game that are excellent, that really excite us,” said Townsend. “His work rate, his speed and ability to spot a gap. His passing has improved a lot, which is great for the future and already now.
“There are parts of his game he has to work on, especially coming into the Six Nations. That is just down to him getting more games and more experience of managing games at Glasgow and should get that over the next few weeks.”
After Saturday’s performance, it’s not easy to see what the 22-year-old needs to be working on. He’s been the best scrum-half at either of the pro teams this year, and his awareness and support play have been world class – for each of Glasgow’s three glorious open field tries against Exeter, it was the Howe of Fife product who was on hand to take an inside pass and deliver the link to the scorer.
His outstanding pace – he may be the fastest player on the books at Scotstoun – and ability to materialise at the shoulder of the man making the break is illustrated by the fact he’s the joint top try-scorer for the club this season, with seven tries from just five starts and six off the bench.
George is still only three or four years in the position – he played stand-off and full-back coming up before being converted into a 9 for Scotland Under-20s. (It should be noted that he was picked ahead of Ben Vellacott for the entirety of that age group campaign three seasons ago, and kicked the goals for good measure.)
Perhaps his field kicking game needs some work, and maybe that’s why Townsend has picked Henry Pyrgos ahead of him for the national squad right now. But ask any regular at Scotstoun and they’ll tell you that George has overtaken Pyrgos as the back-up to Ali Price and is even exerting some pressure on the current Scotland 9.
Rennie said he imagined Exeter would have thought the defensive effort Glasgow went through in the first half – 70 per cent of territory for the English champions – would have sapped their strength, but in the end it was the Warriors who were sprightly and going the length of the field twice in the second half.
However the decision of Romain Poite to yellow card Nick White and award a penalty try for an intentional knock-on – a marginal call at best – definitely helped the home side edge the enormous Chiefs XV, who didn’t aid their own cause with some dreadful handling and a general lack of imagination in the scoring zone.