DANNY Wilson has turned to veteran stand-off Duncan Weir to kick Glasgow Warriors to victory in tonight’s crunch United Rugby Championship clash against the Bulls, which is being played at high altitude in Pretoria. 

He has made seven changes in total – one enforced and six selectorial – as the team look to bounce back from last weekend’s loss to the Stormers, which left them sixth in the table with this and one more match against Edinburgh on 21st May left to play. 

They might be only one point away from regaining their place in the top four, which is where they need to finish for a home draw in the play-offs, but Glasgow are also now looking over their shoulder at the prospect of finishing outside the top eight which would mean no involvement whatsoever in the knock-out stage of this inaugural URC campaign. 

Warriors could drop to eighth in the table with ninth placed Scarlets breathing down their neck going into the final round of matches if they lose to the Bulls tonight. 

“I think we needed to improve a bit of our game management work from the weekend and we feel Duncan has had some really big games for us recently and deserves the opportunity,” said head coach Wilson, in explanation of Weir’s selection ahead of Ross Thompson in the crucial stand-off slot. 

“He’s a bit different from Ross,” he added. “It’s at altitude and we’re playing against a team that has a good running game but also has a very, very strong kicking game with distance, especially with Morne Steyn [the veteran Springbok stand-off] playing.” 

“We’re not going there to kick the leather off the ball, we’re going there to play, but you need to have a kicking game at altitude, and you have to be able to exit well. Otherwise, you’ve got a massive pack of forwards just sat in your 22 doing driving line-out after driving line-out. 

“So, the field position and territory battle at altitude is big and Duncy is part of that process. He’s a very educated kicking ten but can play the running game when we ask him to. Likewise, Ross maybe didn’t have his best game at the weekend by his own admission, but he played pretty well at Newcastle the week and has played a lot of rugby for us this season and last. But there was always a point at which we needed to manage the squad and give players opportunities, and hopefully Duncy will take it.” 

Wilson has made two other changes in the backline, with Cole Forbes replacing the injured Kyle Steyn on the wing, and Stafford McDowall starting ahead of Sam Johnson at inside centre. 

“Sam picked up an [ankle] knock against Stormers and has not trained much this week,” explained Wilson. “Stafford has had some good performances for us recently, so we were quite confident of making that decision early and bringing him in. 

“Our other centres are more disruptive in terms of their defensive collisions and their carrying ability. So, it can sometimes make a difference for us to play a 12 like Stafford – who is more of an exciting ball-playing centre with an educated kicking game – and I think this game could suit that.” 

In the pack, Ryan Wilson returns from a dead leg to lead the side from blindside flanker, Rob Harley has been instructed to make a nuisance of himself in the second-row after replacing Kiran McDonald, Jamie Bhattis swaps in at loose-head prop, and George Turner is named at hooker with Fraser Brown on the bench and Johnny Matthews rested. 

“I want to recognise that Johnny is our in-form hooker at the moment but George and Fraser are two very experienced international hookers. George is arguably Scotland’s first choice so that is a position of strength, and we can manage our squad. I want to emphasise that Johnny is certainly not dropped, he’s been outstanding for us,” said Wilson. 

“Rob Harley played extremely well for us against Zebre recently and we felt we needed to start the game with that sort of physical maul defender against this team. 

“Mathematically it’s not a must win but the reality is that we know it’s game we need to win away from home to give us the best opportunity of getting a home quarter-final,” he continued.  

“And, obviously, a lot will come down to that last game against Edinburgh as well, so there are two big games left in the league for us and on top of that we’re balancing a European knockout quarter-final game away at Lyon next week, so there is a fair bit to manage with the squad.” 

Teams – 

Glasgow Warriors (v Bulls at Loftus Versfeld, Friday @6pm): O Smith; J McKay, S Tuipulotu, S McDowall, C Forbes; D Weir, A Price; J Bhatti, G Turner, Z Fagerson, R Harley, R Gray, R Wilson©, R Darge, J Dempsey. Substitutes: F Brown, O Kebble, S Berghan, K McDonald, T Gordon, J Dobie, R Thompson, S Johnson. 

Vodacom Bulls: C Moodie; J Verity-Arm, L Mope, C Hendricks, M Tambwe; M Steyn, Z Burger; G Steenekamp, J Grobbelaar, M Smith, W Steenkamp, R Nortje, M Coetzee©, A Botha, E Louw. Substitutes: J Wessels, S Matanzima, D Smith, J Swanepoel, C Brink, E Papier, C Smith, H Vorster.