THERE was no room for sentiment in Danny Wilson’s team selection for this evening European Champions Cup pool stage clash against Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park, with the Glasgow Warriors head coach dropping his namesake Ryan Wilson to the bench on the occasion of his 200th appearance for the club. 

The 32-year-old back-rower returned from a Covid-enforced lay-off to play a crucial role in Warriors’ impressive bonus-point win over Ospreys in the United Rugby Championship last Saturday but has had to give way this week to available again Jack Dempsey – who has been a totemic figure for the club since his arrival from Australia at the start of the season. 

Dempsey comes in at No 8, meaning Matt Fagerson takes over the No 6 jersey from Wilson, who in turn displaces Tom Gordon on the bench, while Rory Darge carries on at No 7. 

“It could be any combination of those four and you would still feel quite confident that we've got a good back-row and good back-up off the bench,” reflected the coach. “It was a tough decision, but Matt and Jack have played really well so in our European games so far this season, so they have kept their place. Ryan will bring, as we know, an impact off the bench.” 

Club co-captain Wilson will become only the second player ever to hit 200 appearances for Warriors   behind Rob Harley –  when he comes off the bench tonight, and the coach is hoping that the experienced panel or replacements he has named can play a key role in sealing a famous win. 

Fellow co-captain Fraser Brown, who made a try-scoring comeback after three months out with a knee injury last week, is also among the replacements, as are Scotland fellow internationals Oli Kebble, George Horne and Duncan Weir, plus Argentinean pair Enrique Pieretto and Sebastian Cancelliere. 

Warriors were convincing winners when they hosted the Chiefs at the start of December but taking on the 2020 Champions Cup and English Premiership double-winners in their own backyard will be a big step-up. 

“In tight games – in fact in all games – you want to have an impact off the bench,” Wilson reasoned. “You need some leadership because the most pressured situations and decisions come in the latter stages of matches.  

“We only got away from Exeter at home because we scored a seven-pointer right at the end of the game. Until then it was extremely tight. So, bringing on those guys, who are on the bench who can bring leadership and experience, could be vital if the game is as tight as we presume it will be. 

“Ryan’s been brilliant this week,” he added. “His response when I was explaining to him that he’d be on the bench for his 200th game was the mark of the man.  

“Look, he obviously really wanted to start the game and he always believes he should start, and that’s what you want from your players. But he also said: ‘I’m about what’s best for Glasgow and giving us the best opportunity to beat Exeter away’. And I genuinely believe that with him – he’s team first and, even though he’s really disappointed not to be selected, it’s what’s best for the team and he’ll get behind that.” 

There are no other changes in the Warriors side from the XV that starting against Ospreys , with Wilson keen to reward recent good form – but he also stressed that the players know that they will have to raise their game again if they are to achieve a famous victory, with a good discipline being absolutely key. 

“Last month was a real milestone win for us,” he said. “To take a big scalp against a top side that was fully loaded. They’re a brilliant side and have been for a long time. 

“Probably the most pleasing thing for me was our discipline. That is something which has let us down in a number of games, where we've given away double figure penalties, and you simply cannot do that in big European matches against the calibre of teams we're now facing. So, that'll be another big focus again this week. 

"Hopefully, our backs can also fire like they have been firing because they have been excellent. With the likes of Sione Tuipulotu and the damage these guys can do, we're confident going down there but fully aware of the challenge ahead.  

“Maybe in their eyes they felt they were off their standard last time, and I’m sure they will want to put that right. 

“Likewise, we'll want to show that we can do it home and away because doing that in the same season would be massive.” 

Exeter are missing Jonny Gray, who has an injury, but Stuart Hogg and Sam Skinner are both starting. 

Glasgow Warriors (v Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park, 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, K McDonald, M Fagerson, R Darge, J Dempsey. Replacements: F Brown, O Kebble, E Pieretto, L Bean,, R Wilson, G Horne, D Weir, S Cancelliere. 

Exeter Chiefs: S Hogg; J Nowell, H Slade, I Whitten, T O'Flaherty; J Simmonds, J Maunder; B Moon, L Cowan-Dickie ©, J Iosefa-Scott, S Skinner, S Lonsdale, D Ewers, J Kirsten, S Simmonds. Replacements: J Innard, J Kenny, P Schickerling, D Jenins, D Armand, S Maunder, H Skinner, T Hendrickson.