OLI KEBBLE insists that his focus during the last month has been 100 percent on helping Glasgow Warriors in their push for a top four finish in the United Rugby Championships, but he believes that his form during that period has been good enough to warrant a recall to the national set-up ahead of next Saturday’s Six Nations round three clash against Grand Slam chasing France at Murrayfield.
With Rory Sutherland out for the remainder of the Six Nations campaign with rib and shoulder injuries suffered against Wales, and Jamie Bhatti still two to three weeks away from fitness due to a hand issue, there is currently only two loose-heads in the national training squad.
Pierre Schoeman is certain to start against Les Bleus, while Allan Dell was a late call-up for Bhatti three weeks ago, and if he is added to the squad this week then Kebble’s bulk could be a key consideration as the Scotland coaching team look to put together a match-day 23 to cope with the mountainous French. He is 19½ stone, which is two-and-half-stone heavier than Dell.
Kebble has also had more recent game time at both club and international level than Dell, including 65 minutes at the pit-face on Saturday night’s gritty 13-3 victory over Benetton in monsoon conditions at Scotstoun.
“Yeah, I’m playing well enough, I think,” he said. “I’m just trying to put my hand up by playing well for Glasgow and we’ll see where it goes from there. Hopefully I’ve done enough to get a crack against France.
“The Six Nations is a long tournament so I never thought when I missed out initially that there wouldn’t be opportunities going forward, so the best thing I can do is play some good rugby out there [for Glasgow] and hopefully earn that opportunity.”
Kebble’s omission from Gregor Townsend’s initial Six Nations training squad last month was a surprise but not a major shock given that his early season see-sawing between loose-head and tight-head meant that he had struggled to really impose himself as a more reliable option than the specialists on both sides of the front-row who did make the cut.
He has now played nine matches on the bounce at loose-head – his last outing at tight-head was at the end of November – but insists that he remains happy to wear the No 3 jersey, or any other jersey for that matter, if it means he can add to his current cap tally of 10.
“Loose-head is where I’m playing at the moment but as I’ve said before, I’ll play anywhere for Scotland and for Glasgow, so wherever they want me, if they want me, I’ll keep putting my hand up whenever I get a chance,” he stressed.
Saturday’s victory leaves Warriors third in the United Rugby Championship table, just one point behind joint leaders Leinster and Ulster (although Leinster have a game in hand).
Full-back and man-of-the-match Ollie Smith scored a try for Warriors midway through the first half, and Jack Dempsey dotted down after the break, while Argentinean stand-off Domingo Miotti marked his first start for the club with an early penalty.
“The conditions kind of worsened as the game went on, and Treviso are a really good side, so we expected a battle,” said Kebble. “It probably wasn’t the prettiest at times, but sometimes you’ve got to win ugly, so we’re really happy with the result.
“I suppose it is the sign of a championship team … we are pushing at the top of the table now and even when we’re not playing at our best, we are managing to win games.
“It doesn’t matter if you win by three points or by 20, we want to win every game we play.
“Last season was so disrupted, so to have that consistency– I think it is five wins in a row in the league – there is a lot of confidence in our changing room which is a good thing.”
While disappointed that his team didn’t fire on all cylinders on Saturday night, Warriors head coach Danny Wilson reckons his team recent ‘ugly’ wins – they battled to a 13-11 success over Munster a week past Friday – demonstrates the progress being made under his watch.
“This period last year without all our internationals, we really struggled,” he said. “To be exposing players – it was Domingo Miotti and Walter Fafita’s first starts – while picking up points is pleasing.
“We’ve got to be in or around the top four for us to really have a chance [of winning the URC after the play-offs], and we were nowhere near that this time last year, so to be there now is pleasing. And if we can play like tonight – ugly – and win, then it’s the mark of a good team.”
“Treviso at home in the international window with both teams missing players, you’d probably look at that and target five points, but in the circumstances I’m happy we came out with four.”