LEONE Nakarawa has long been able to conjure up an opening out of nothing, and Danny Wilson hopes the Fijian will at least offer some glimpses of his world-class talent when he makes his much-anticipated return for Glasgow this evening.
The 32-year-old forward, who last played 11 months ago but has finally recovered from a knee injury and some related setbacks, begins the PRO14 match at Scotstoun on the bench. If Nakarawa regains his best form fairly quickly, there is no doubt that he could have a major impact on the Warriors’ season, but Wilson is conscious that a degree of patience will be required given that lengthy absence.
“I’m certainly hoping for a few touches of magic,” the head coach said after naming his matchday 23 for the game, which was postponed last week due to a frozen pitch and doubles up as an 1872 Cup encounter. “I think we can’t get too carried away – it’s been a long, long time since he’s played, and if you’ve been out of rugby for a long time, it takes a little time to get back into it, get your second wind, get used to the contacts.
“I’m just really pleased that stage one is about to happen – hopefully it does happen, that he takes part in this game and then stage by stage he’ll come back and hopefully he’ll be all the player that we’re hoping for. But I think we should be relatively patient, if I’m honest.”
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There have been times when, even coming on as a substitute, Nakarawa has transformed a match in Glasgow’s favour. The question today, however, is not so much if he will be in the form to do so, but if his team will still be in touching distance of Edinburgh by the time he comes off the bench.
While the Warriors only lost 10-7 at Murrayfield a fortnight ago, they were under severe pressure in the scrum. Wilson’s answer to that problem was to have been the return of Oli Kebble to the front row, but the loosehead prop sustained a head knock in training on Thursday so has been ruled out.
As George Thornton and Alex Allan are also out injured, that leaves Aki Seiuli as the only senior loosehead in the squad, with Scotland Under-20 cap Tom Lambert as back-up. Seiuli’s forte is in the loose, and he and Lambert could well have a torrid time against Edinburgh tightheads Simom Berghan and WP Nel.
“Oli’s an international loosehead and a very destructive scrummager – not having him is a blow,” Wilson conceded. “It was a freak accident that ruled him out – as he went to the floor to present the ball he caught someone’s knee on the way down. It was quite a bang and he was feeling quite a lot of effects from that.
“But it opens the door and gives an opportunity to somebody else. Aki is an outstanding rugby player around the field and hopefully he will put in a better scrum performance.
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“Young Tom Lambert gets his first opportunity at this level. He played really well in the Six Nations last year and put a bit of a marker down. At that level he scrummaged really well. It’s obviously a big step up from that to this.
“The unique situation this year is there hasn’t been any rugby in between – there’s no Super6 or anything for him to play in. But we’ve had a couple of internal games that he’s been involved in, and he’s done a load of scrum sessions and contact sessions, so he’s done plenty against first-team players.
“He’s a good lad, a good player, a really exciting one for the future. And I think like all young lads if he takes his opportunity that future could be on top of him quite quickly.
“We’ve done a lot of work on our scrum in training. We’re going up against one of the best scrummaging outfits out there and we didn’t function well in the last game.”
It will be a first Warriors appearance for Lambert if he comes off the bench, as it will be for backs replacement Ollie Smith and starting winger Rufus McLean. Stand-off Ross Thompson, meanwhile, will be making his first start, having come on as a substitute a fortnight ago.