THE Franco Smith selection merry-go-round has taken another mighty spin with the Glasgow Warriors head coach making nine changes to the starting XV he sent out for last weekend’s impressive URC away win over Munster ahead of tonight’s home Challenge Cup clash against Dragons.

Six players who played key roles in Scotland’s recent Six Nations campaign have been added to the side after being rested last weekend – second-row Richie Gray (fit again following a rib injury), No.8 Jack Dempsey, scrum-half George Horne, inside-centre Sione Tuipulotu, outside-centre Huw Jones and winger Kyle Steyn (as captain) with with another in the shape of hooker George Turner being named on the bench.

Meanwhile, the Fagerson brother (Zander and Matt), Fraser Brown and Ali Price – who all played last weekend – have belatedly been given their post Six Nations break.

However, there is no Ross Thompson, with Smith revealing that the Scotland capped stand-off’s miserable season has suffered another set-back. He has managed only two bench appearances all season due to a back injury quickly followed by an ankle injury, and he has now been ruled out for the remainder of the campaign.

“Unfortunately, he has a little bit of a stress fracture [in his right foot],” explained Smith. “He’s been working hard to get back, doing a lot of kicking, and that might have caused it. It’s his planted foot when he’s kicking. I think it’s come about through training.

“We took him to Munster last week and he was going to be in the 24 again this week. I feel for the guy, he’s had a very, very difficult season.

“He came into the season with an injury, then got injured in the first opportunity he got back, and now, as he came out of the rehab side of it, he’s got injured again. I suppose everything happens for a reason and he’s a positive guy and hopefully now this longer pre-season leading into the World Cup will help him recover properly.

“It’s going to be tough,” the coach replied when asked to confirm if Thompson’s 2022-23 season is over. “He’s going to be operated on next week so it will be tough to get him ready and get him involved in the final part of the competition.”

Smith added that he had absolutely no qualms about the far-reaching changes he has made to the match-play squad this week, which is in lee[omh with his bold approach to selection throughout the campaign.

“It is an important game in this competition and I feel the players we are introducing have played some top rugby recently in the Six Nations, and I think they will bring some experience, which at the same time allows us to reset some of the boys who did a great job against Munster,” he explained.

“We’re confident with the group and I’m just repeating myself when I say a great group makes a good team, so everyone is contributing and this gives us a chance to allow boys like Sam Johnson, Stafford McDowall, Matt and Zander Fagerson, Fraser Brown and Ali Price a chance to reset and get some time way.

“Enthusiasm is the main ingredient in creativity, and you can only be enthusiastic if you are rested and if you are well-prepared,” he added. “So, this time away forms part of a re-set period, it is not necessarily an off-week, it is an opportunity for them to be even better when they come back.”

Dragons have managed just four wins and a draw from 20 games so far in all competitions this season. The Welsh region also have nine new faces in their starting XV, including Wales international Rio Dyer returning on the wing, while 14 players are listed as unavailable for various reasons.

“Firstly, it doesn’t really change anything in terms of our approach,” said Smith of Dragons’ extensive unavailable list. “Secondly, it can make them more dangerous in the sense that some guys might be playing for contracts. Some guys might be trying to impress or will get their first chance of the season.

‘I quickly had a glance at their team and it looks like they’ve rolled out the best team they can [given the circumstances]. They still have a few internationals involved and that will definitely make a difference from the previous game against them [when Warriors won 42-28 at Rodney Parade in the week before the Six Nations kicked-off].”