THAT old rugby aphorism about forwards winning matches and backs deciding by how much sprung to mind yesterday as Glasgow Warriors head coach Franco Smith explained his team selection for tonight’s long awaited return to Scotstoun, to take on Cardiff in round two of the URC.

Having failed to match Benetton up-front during the first half of last weekend’s round one match, he has changed half his pack. Tight-head prop, hooker Fraser Brown, second-row Scott Cummings and openside flanker Rory Darge have been asked to bring their dynamism, aggression and international experience to bear from the start – with Fagerson, Cummings and Darge all having contributed to a much better second half performance last week.

“I don’t want people thinking it’s a reaction to what happened, it’s just progression,” stressed Smith. “We want a proper start this week. We’ve got our internationals for some games, and we need to use them in this period well. The guys not starting will have a specific plan and programme for the next six weeks heading into the tour of South Africa.”

Meanwhile, Smith has stuck with the same backline as started last week, which includes three fringe players from recent seasons in George Horne, Tom Jordan and Stafford McDowall in the crucial 9-10-12 axes – despite vastly experienced individuals such as Ali Price, Duncan Weir, Domingo Miotti and Sam Johnson all being available if required.

“I’m a [former] backline player and confidence is everything, so we’ve got to grow that,” the coach reasoned. “For me, there’s no need to scratch where it doesn’t itch. There was some good stuff in the second half of the Benetton game.

“We’re growing as a group. It was a pre-season outing, if I can put it that way, even though it was in a competition. Unfortunately, we had no other games to look at the guys and continuity at this stage is very important. There are no panic buttons here.

The National: Franco Smith with Glasgow WarriorsFranco Smith with Glasgow Warriors (Image: SNS)

“With Tom at stand-off, we have to grow people in that role,” Smith added. “Domingo was going to play in the Ulster pre-season game before it was cancelled and was going to be involved in last week’s game [but picked up a hamstring injury], and Duncan joined our squad later in pre-season due to a calf injury. These two guys were going to lead us into the competition but unfortunately with the two games cancelled we didn’t have a chance to see them. So, we’re going to stick to the original plan. We’ve outlined the plan to all players and all coaching staff and continuity is important to us.

“Stafford is the future of this club, and when Sam and Sione [Tuipulotuu] are away on international duty we’ll need people who have played,” the South African continued. “He [McDowall] is only 24 years old. He has been around the club for a long time, but he has been sitting behind quality players, so it wasn't all about what he didn't do, it was about what other players were doing that meant he didn't get the opportunities.

“He is a strong, tall player. He has an educated left boot on him and good distribution. The thing that has held a lot of the players in this team back is the pressure to perform. The processes must be put in place in an environment where they are allowed to make mistakes and allowed to grow.

“That's one of the reasons why I stuck with him this week. Yes, there were mistakes, but everyone makes mistakes at the start of the season. Why not give this guy a chance to make that next step with confidence?

Smith added that while he hopes the players will rise to the occasion of playing at their home ground for the first time since 1st April, he expressed uneasiness about the squad being too prone to looking backwards at history when they need to focussing forwards at making their own future.

“I’m just hoping we can manage the emotion properly,” he said. “Emotional intelligence is something that’s very important. Our theme this week was to get rid of the past results because last week, for me, formed part of the previous coaching group’s regime as a lot of the habits we saw were not coached in this little pre-season that we had together.”

“Hopefully this game at home will be that line in the sand. This week it is about writing our own story. We will hopefully then grow this story for the sake of the club and the nation going forward.”

Glasgow Warriors (v Cardiff at Scotstoun Stadium, Friday 7.35pm): C Forbes; S Cancelliere, S Tuipulotu, S McDowall, K Steyn©; T Jordan, G Horne; J Bhatti, F Brown, Z Fagerson, S Cummings, R Gray, M Fagerson, R Darge, J Dempsey. Replacements: G Turner, O Kebble, L Sordino, J du Preez, S Manjezi, T Gordon, A Price, D Miotti.

Unavailable for selection: Lewis Bean (head), Allan Dell (calf), Jamie Dobie (hamstring), Huw Jones (back), Nathan McBeth (knee) Ally Miller (back), Enrique Pieretto (shoulder), Ollie Smith (back), Ross Thompson (back), Sione Vailanu (sickness).

Cardiff: M Morgan; A Summerhill, M Grady, M Llewellyn, J Adams; J Evans, T Williams; R Carré, K Dacey, D Lewis, J Turnbull©, S Davies, J Botham, T Young, J Ratti. Replacements: L Belcher, B Thyer, K Assiratti, M Screech, L Timani, L Williams, R Priestland, U Halaholo