Glasgow Warriors coach Franco Smith challenges Benetton to handle favourites tag and praises likely debutant

Benetton’s bright start to the season comes as no surprise to Franco Smith because the Glasgow Warriors coach played a significant role in the development of some of the younger players who now form the bedrock of the team.
Max Williamson is line to make his Glasgow Warriors debut from the bench against Benetton at Scotstoun. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)Max Williamson is line to make his Glasgow Warriors debut from the bench against Benetton at Scotstoun. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Max Williamson is line to make his Glasgow Warriors debut from the bench against Benetton at Scotstoun. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

Not adverse to playing the odd mind game, Smith claimed in the Italian media this week that the Treviso club will be favourites when they lock horns with the Warriors at Scotstoun on Saturday night and has questioned whether they will be able to handle the tag. It’s the first part of a Scottish double header for Benetton who play Edinburgh at the Hive on Friday. They arrive in the country as the only unbeaten team in the United Rugby Championship having recorded narrow wins over Cardiff, the Lions and Stormers and drawn with Munster. It’s an impressive run from a club who beat the Scottish pro teams at home last season but lost to both on the road.

“It will be interesting to see how the Italians handle the favourites tag and how it’s perceived by their coaching group,” said Smith. “It doesn’t really matter to us because we are all about bettering our processes.”

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“Obviously I know what’s been done there in the last three years,” added Smith who served as head of high performance for the Italian Rugby Federation and coach of Italy prior to joining Glasgow in 2022. “The programme was introduced and the plan around evolving that team. I knew that the young guys I picked in Italy in 2020-21 would be three or four years down the line with a World Cup behind them. So, no surprises. It’s a natural progression and they’re just stepping up.

“They’ve played narrow margin games in the first four weeks so their ability to stay in the fight proves that. They’ve also signed some very good internationals to complement the squad when some of the other players are rested.”

With three wins from four, Glasgow have also got off to an impressive start in the URC and are a point ahead of Saturday’s opponents. Smith’s plans for the match have been hindered by injury and suspension at half-back. Jamie Dobie is out for up to 14 weeks after suffering a serious ankle injury in the away win over Ospreys and George Horne takes over at scrum-half. He is partnered by Tom Jordan who comes in at 10 for Duncan Weir who is serving a ban for a high tackle in Swansea.

Elsewhere, Josh McKay takes over from the rested Ollie Smith at full-back and Thomas Gordon comes into the back row at openside, with Sione Vailanu moving to No 8 and Henco Venter dropping out. There is also a first outing since the World Cup for Scotland hooker George Turner who has been laid low by a stomach bug but is now fully fit and takes over from Johnny Matthews who drops to the bench.

There is likely to be a debut for lock forward Max Williamson, a graduate from the club’s academy who came through the ranks at Stirling County, who is among the replacements. “He’s merited his chance after showing good progression and good actions already in pre-season,” said Smith. “I’m proud of the young man who has worked really hard.”

Glasgow Warriors v Benetton (URC, Scotstoun, Saturday, 7.35pm. TV: live on Viaplay).

Glasgow Warriors: J McKay; S Cancelliere, S Tuipulotu, S McDowall (c), K Rowe; T Jordan, G Horne; J Bhatti, G Turner, L Sordoni, S Manjezi, R Gray, M Fagerson, T Gordon, S Vailanu. Replacements: J Matthews, A Dell, E Pieretto, G Peterson, M Williamson, A Miller, S Kennedy, R Thompson.

Benetton: G Da Re; M Watson, I Brex, M Zanon, P Odogwu; T Albornoz, A Garbisi; I Nemer, G Lucchesi; S Ferrari, N Cannone, F Ruzza, S Negri, M Lamaro (c), T Halafihi. Replacements: B Bernasconi, M Spagnolo, T Pasquali, G Koegelenberg, G Pettinelli, H Time-Stowers, D Duvenage, J Umaga.

Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU).

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