We Need To Talk About: Selection for Saracens

Gregor Townsend has been very consistent with his selections in the European Cup so far this season. He picked the same pack for 5 out of the 6 pool matches, with just a single change for the 6th. In the backs the last 4 fixtures saw the same half backs and back 3 with Sam Johnson and Mark Bennett (2 games each) the only players not to start in each one of those games.

The most favoured line-up in Europe so far has been:

15. Stuart Hogg (6 starts)
14. Tommy Seymour (4)
13. Alex Dunbar (5 – 2 at inside centre)
12. Sam Johnson (4)
11. Lee Jones (4)
10. Finn Russell (6)
9. Ali Price (4)

1. Gordon Reid (6)
2. Fraser Brown (6)
3. Zander Fagerson (6)
4. Tim Swinson (6)
5. Jonny Gray (6)
6. Rob Harley (6)
7. Ryan Wilson (6 – 1 at number 8)
8. Josh Strauss (5)

16. Pat MacArthur (4 times on the bench)
17. Alex Allan (6)
18. Sila Puafisi (4)
19. Brian Alainu’uese (4)
20. Chris Fusaro (3)
21. Henry Pyrgos (3)
22. Mark Bennett / Nick Grigg (3 each)
23. Sean Lamont / Peter Murchie (3 each)

With one of the biggest games in Glasgow’s history coming up in the shape of a Champions Cup quarter final against Saracens, which are the top 5 selectorial dilemmas for the Warriors’ head coach?

Who partners Alex Dunbar?

Sam Johnson started the first 4 pool matches but for the crucial encounters in Rounds 5 and 6, Mark Bennett renewed his fruitful partnership with Alex Dunbar. With Bennett injured and Johnson only having played once for the Warriors in 2017 it looks like a straight fight between Peter Horne at 12 or Nick Grigg at 13.

Horne and Dunbar have history together – although mainly due to injuries they’ve only had 3 starts as a centre pairing in the last 2 seasons. Dunbar and Grigg have never started together but they have managed some game time during 2016/17 with one or other coming off the bench. The odds would seem to favour Horne to begin the match as a second playmaker, supporting Finn Russell, with pocket battleship Grigg to enter the fray as a replacement.

Swinson suspended?

Brian Alainu’uese’s current form might have caused a few debates in the selection meeting this week, although it’s still probable Tim Swinson would have got the nod – he did win Man of the Match in Glasgow’s last 2 European fixtures after all! Swinson’s likely suspension means Brian will partner Jonny Gray for just the second time with the questions really surrounding who will cover lock from the bench?

Greg Peterson and Tjiuee Uanivi are the other names in the Champions Cup squad – but apart from 12 minutes off the bench for Uanivi neither has had any serious game time for the Warriors since September. With more options available in the back row there could well be an extra flanker among the substitutes with Rob Harley to provide the lock cover as he did in rounds 1 and 2 of the tournament.

Surviving without Strauss

In the back row the go to selection so far in the European Cup has been 6. Harley 7. Wilson 8. Strauss. It’s unlikely that Glasgow will have Josh Strauss to call on after a kidney injury while playing for Scotland in Paris. That could mean reverting to the trio that took to the field in Paris in Round 3. On that occasion Ryan Wilson shifted to number 8 and Simone Favaro played at openside – from where he terrorised Dan Carter!

Uniting Favaro and Harley in the back row certainly brings a destructiveness to the Warriors’ defensive play but it does cut down their options in attack. The alternative that might be considered is to go for a slightly more direct switch with Adam Ashe coming in to play the big ball carrier role vacated by Strauss.

Backing up Brown

Fraser Brown will undoubtedly make his 7th consecutive European start. He has been a crucial figure for Glasgow this season, carrying hard (and scoring tries) and providing the jackalling threat at the breakdown that frees Simone Favaro to go hunting tackles rather than turnovers.

Pat MacArthur has been the main option in the number 16 jersey and would move into 2nd place all time for Champions Cup appearances for Glasgow if he came on against Saracens. The recent strong form of Corey Flynn means there is competition for that number 16 jersey though. Gregor Townsend will know he needs someone who can counter the power of Schalk Brits off the bench – might Flynn’s experience tip the balance his way? If he does get the nod he would become the oldest player to feature for the Warriors in a European match.

Last man in

So far this season the number 23 shirt has switched between Sean Lamont and Peter Murchie with both men benching 3 times (each player coming on as a substitute twice and being unused once). Lamont on the bench means Tommy Seymour providing emergency full back cover whereas Murchie among the replacements would lead to a makeshift winger being required in the event of injury. Stuart Hogg would seem the most likely candidate, although the Six Nations player of the year has never featured out wide for Glasgow or Scotland.

There is no perfect situation in terms of cover but after a barnstorming performance against Connacht that rolled back the years, Big Sean (who could also be the oldest man to play for the Warriors in Europe if Corey Flynn doesn’t feature) seems the most likely choice.

On Top Of The Moon’s Predicted 23 for Sunday:

15. Stuart Hogg
14. Tommy Seymour
13. Alex Dunbar
12. Peter Horne
11. Lee Jones
10. Finn Russell
9. Ali Price

1. Gordon Reid
2. Fraser Brown
3. Zander Fagerson
4. Brian Alainu’uese
5. Jonny Gray
6. Rob Harley
7. Simone Favaro
8. Ryan Wilson

16. Pat MacArthur
17. Alex Allan
18. Sila Puafisi
19. Adam Ashe
20. Chris Fusaro
21. Henry Pyrgos
22. Nick Grigg
23. Sean Lamont

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