FRANCO SMITH has stuck to the strategy which served his Glasgow Warriors team well in the opening two rounds of their Challenge Cup campaign at the start of December by ringing the changes in his team selection for tonight’s away clash against Perpignan.

There are 12 personnel changes to the starting XV from last weekend’s impressive win over the Stormers in the URC, plus one positional swap with Ollie Smith moving from full-back to the wing.

Having beaten Bath away and Perpignan at home (or at least at Murrayfield the fixture was moved east because of a frozen pitch at Scotstoun), Glasgow can book their place in the last 16 of the tournament with any sort of win.

They face a French side who are without a win in the competition, and although two victories from their remaining two pool matches should be enough to progress to the knock-out phase, the fact that they have made 14 changes to the side which took on Clermont last weekend suggests their battle to avoid dropping out the Top 14 – they are seven points adrift at the foot of their domestic league table – is their overriding preoccupation.

Of course, the fact that Warriors have also made so many changes could suggest they have similar priorities, but it is not a like-for-like scenario because the Scottish side have already proved that they can win at this level when fielding fringe and emerging talent. It feels like Glasgow are on a journey, while Perpignan are scrambling for survival.

Stafford McDowall will captain the away side for the first time, and he links up in the centre with Sam Johnson, who is making his first appearance since breaking his jaw in early October, and the 27-times capped midfielder will be hoping that he can mount a late surge into Gregor Townsend’s Six Nations training squad, which is named on Tuesday.

“It was the third time he has broken his jaw, so we wanted to give him the maximum time to recover properly and to build up his confidence in contact again,” Smith said. “He uses his body well, and we didn’t want to risk any other injury – but now is actually the perfect timing for him in this period to show all the qualities he has as an international player.

“It’s really exciting to have him back. It’s another good centre combination going in there along with Stafford.

“I’m really proud of Stafford. He’s a natural leader and I think he’s proven a lot this year with his hard work and diligence. You can see it in the confidence the players around him have developed in him.

“It’s a good compliment to where the club is at right now that a young guy like that can step up and lead as captain.”

Cole Forbes will also make his first appearance after recovering from a neck injury sustained against Cell C Sharks in mid-October after being named on the wing, while flanker Thomas Gordon is on the bench having been out since picking up a calf injury in the same match.

Loose-head prop Nathan McBeth makes his first start for the club some 15 months after being recruited from South Africa, while Richie Gray returns to the side in the second row after missing last weekend’s win at Scotstoun with a minor infection, and academy prospect Euan Ferrie gets his first professional start at blindside flanker.

However, there is no return for Murphy Walker, with Smith explaining that the neck injury which kept him out of last weekend’s clash against the Stormers is more serious than was initially diagnosed.

This is bad news for Scotland given that he was the next cab off the rank if Scotland’s first choice tight-head, Zander Fagerson, loses his race be to be fit again from a serious hamstring injury in time for the Six Nations, which kicks off in three weeks’ time with an away match against England on Saturday 4 February.

“Murphy has got a little bit of a bulging disc in his neck,” said the coach.

“He can basically do everything as normal, except for scrummaging. So, unfortunately, he’ll be out of any scrummaging work for the next three to four weeks.”

Perpignan: B Goutard; N Seguela, A Taumoepeau, P Fernandez, E Sawaileau; M Rodor, T Ecochard; X Chiocci, V Montgaillard, A Fakatika, B Chinarro, A Mahu, T Ramasibana, E Bertheau, V Moro. Substitutes: M Tadjer, G Tetrashvili, V Jincharadze, P Tuilagi, A Bouthier, A Perez, K Desrues, L Pichon.

Glasgow Warriors: J McKay: C Forbes, S McDowall ©, S Johnson, O Smith; D Miotti, J Dobie; N McBeth, J Matthews, L Sordoni, J Du Preez, R Gray, E Ferrie, C Neild J Dempsey. Substitutes: A Fraser, J Bhatti, S Berghan, L Bean, A Samuel, T Gordon, S Kennedy, D Weir.