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Glasgow Warriors have point to prove versus Exeter Chiefs

DANNY WILSON is too diplomatic a character to agree that this evening’s meeting with Exeter Chiefs is a grudge match, but the Glasgow Warriors head coach does agree that his team have a point to prove. 

Not only have the English side lured two of Scotstoun’s favourite sons – Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray – to Devon in recent years, the two sides have been drawn in the same Champions Cup pool in four out of the last five seasons, with the Chiefs having won three, drawn one and lost one of the matches played (the solitary Glasgow victory being a dead-rubber at Scotstoun back in January 2018). 

The last meeting – and the only one Wilson has been directly involved in – was particularly tough to take, with the 41-0 demolition doled out by the Chiefs at Sandy Park last December the lowest point in a season full of troughs for Wilson and the Warriors.  

To make matters worse, several members of the Warriors squad tested positive to Covid after that match, leading to forfeiture of the following weekend’s Champions Cup match against Lyon, and the postponements of the subsequent week’s 1872 Cup clash against Edinburgh. It was reported at the time that Glasgow were unhappy about Exeter’s relaxed approach to following Covid restrictions and had submitted a complaint to tournament organisers EPCR. 

Wilson insists the shadow of that grim experience has not hung over the squad as they’ve prepared for this weekend’s game, but he does hope that it will give his team an extra edge as they hunt the win they need to keep their aspirations of making the knock-out stage of this season’s Champions Cup alive. 

“I think there definitely is a rivalry,” he said. “There is a familiarity about the fixture and the opposition, and from my point of view, I’ve only experienced last year which was an extremely difficult game for us. 

“It doesn’t bring back good memories, so we haven’t talked a huge amount about it, but I think it is on everyone’s mind that the last time we played them, we came up well short and didn’t really fire a shot.  

“I remember we all came back together on the Monday [following the November Test window] to play the European champions at that time on the Saturday, so we just weren’t ready. 

“And then on the back of that game, we were shut down for three weeks, or whatever it was. It therefore lingered because we didn’t get a chance to get back out and show an improvement the next week.  

“[But] we’re going into this game in a better place. We had a good win against the Dragons and a decent performance against La Rochelle – when we lost but there were lots of positives to take out of that game – so we’ll see how we go against Exeter.

“They have obviously grown over the last whatever number of years to become their league champions and the European Champions in 2020,” he added. “So, overall, they are a good example of where other teams want to be. 

“They’ve built that slowly over time, they’ve built it from within, and we’ve got full respect for what they’ve done. 

“But at the same time, they are coming to our place – we didn’t get a chance to play them at home last year – so I’m hoping that makes a big difference to our boys and the game in general.” 

Despite dealing with a six-day turnaround heading into this match, Wilson has made only one change to his starting XV, with form and familiarity with each other trumping freshness on this occasion. 

Jamie Bhatti starts at loose-head in place of Oli Kebble, while Kiran McDonald and Tom Gordon have replaced Lewis Bean and Ally Miller on a bench which is split six-two between forwards and backs for the second week running. 

“They [Bhatti and Kebble] are two guys who are very hard to choose between at the moment, and I said to both that barring some change in form they would each get a start and come off the bench in the two European games,” reasoned Wilson. “Oli got a chest injury last week and was struggling at half-time so we changed him, and he has not been able to train fully this week, but he’s over that bump now. Jamie would have started this game anyway.” 

Meanwhile, tonight’s match will see the brothers Richie and Jonny Gray play against each other for the first time in their careers. 

“Different players if we’re honest – they’re not identical in the way they go about the game, but it will be another sub-plot to an interesting game,” said Wilson. 

Hogg and fellow Scotland international Sam Skinner have also been named in Exeter’s starting XV for tonight’s match, with the visitors high on confidence having beaten Bath away then Saracens and Montpellier at home during the last three weeks. 

Glasgow Warriors (v Exeter Chiefs at Scotstoun Stadium, Saturday 5.30pm): J McKay; K Steyn, S Tuipulotu, S Johnson, C Forbes; R Thompson, A Price©; J Bhatti, G Turner, Z Fagerson, S Cummings, R Gray, M Fagerson, R Darge, J Dempsey. Replacements: J Matthews, O Kebble, E Pieretto, K McDonald, R Harley, T Gordon, G Horne, D Weir. 

Exeter Chiefs: S Hogg; J Nowell, H Slade, I Whitten, T O’Flaherty; J Simmonds, J Maunder; A Hepburn, L Cowan-Dickie, S Nixon, J Gray, J Hill, D Ewers, S Skinner, S Simmonds, Replacements: J Yeandle, B Mood, P Schickerling, D Armand, J Kirsten, S Maunder, H Skinner, T Hendrickson. 

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