FRANCO SMITH has rewarded the Glasgow Warriors pack for their abrasive individual and collective performances in last Friday’s 1872 Cup first-leg win over Edinburgh at Scotstoun by selecting the same eight players to start in tonight’s re-match at Murrayfield.

Meanwhile, he has tinkered with his backline by promoting the experienced Ali Price to start at scrum-half ahead of the benched George Horne, while Ollie Smith comes in at full-back in place of Josh McKay, who drops out of the matchday squad altogether.

“This selection doesn't really have anything to do with that last result,” insisted Smith. “I think it's more about continuity in a difficult week which is disrupted with Christmas in the middle.”

Smith also explained the exclusion of Murphy Walker from the match-day squad this week, after the 23-year-old Scotland contender was initially named as tight-head for last weekend’s game – which would have been an excellent opportunity to test himself against the highly rated Pierre Schoeman – only to be dropped to the bench to act as an unused loose-head replacement when Nathan McBeth fell ill shortly before kick-off.

“With Oli Kebble and Allan Dell also unavailable at the moment we had to move him onto the bench in an emergency situation but we don't want to go the loose-head way with him again because we are trying to help him convert to a tight-head,” said Smith. “However, with Lucio Sordoni and Simon Berghan having done a proper job against Edinburgh last week there is no reason for us to scratch where it doesn't itch.

“I’d like to make it clear that we have a specific plan for Murphy to be ready and available for Scotland in the Six Nations. We just have to follow due diligence and proper process.”

Last week’s match was a turgid battle of wills, and Smith suggested that tonight’s game could be more expansive, but he stressed that this would depend on the weather conditions.

“Obviously, the weather wasn't in our favour last week, but I think we managed it well,” he said. “There is meant to be a lot of rain overnight and on the morning of the game, but it might settle down before kick-off, although a lot of wind is predicted. If the ball is a bit more playable then I think both teams will show something different.

“I think we’ve now proven against Bath and against Edinburgh last week that we have various ways we can play,” he added. “But I also felt like we didn’t play to our strengths at times last week because of the weather.

“Our mentality is not focused on the fact we are playing Edinburgh. We have our own standards, and we want to get better all the time.We want to be real competitors in this league. To do that, there’s a lot of improvement still needed, and we’ve identified those areas. I don’t think we’re close yet to where we should be.

“Edinburgh have made a lot of changes,” he observed. “I’d say they are favourites for this one because it is at home and they’ve got a lot of good players coming in. It is basically a must-win game because they’d like to not just put one on us but pick up some important URC points as well, so I definitely think they will come out firing.

“Their pack will be really determined at the breakdown to slow our game down and turn us over there. With one or two changes in the backs and Blair Kinghorn coming in at stand-off, they're going to be more comfortable with him taking it to width.

“So, we expect them to throw the kitchen sink at us. At home, with a lot of fresh guys coming in, I'm sure the must-win feeling will give them that extra motivation.”

The game has been moved from Edinburgh’s DAM Health Stadium to Murrayfield so as to accommodate a bumper crowd which is expected to be in excess of 25,000, and Smith said he is hopeful that enough Warriors fans will make the trip west to ensure that his team feel like they are playing in a neutral venue rather than in an away match.

“The opportunity to play our Challenge Cup game against Perpignan there two weekends ago gives us confidence going there again, but it's not going to be a game changer,” he reasoned. “Both teams are used to playing on that field and know it is a special place. We certainly hope there are going to be a lot of Glasgow supporters there to help make a big crowd and create a lot of noise.”

Glasgow Warriors (v Edinburgh at Murrayfield, Friday 30th December, kick-off 7.35pm): O Smith: S Cancelliere, S Tuipulotu, S McDowall, K Steyn©; T Jordan, A Price; J Bhatti, F Brown, L Sordoni, S Manjezi, R Gray, M Fagerson, S Vailanu, J Dempsey. Substitutes: G Turner, N McBeth, S Berghan, J du Preez, L Bean, C Neild, G Horne, D Miotti.