Allan Massie: 1872 Cup now carries magnitude

Edinburgh and Glasgow clash in last year's 1872 Cup. Picture: Toby Williams
Edinburgh and Glasgow clash in last year's 1872 Cup. Picture: Toby Williams
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THE Glasgow-Edinburgh Inter-City match for the 1872 Cup may indeed be the oldest-established club game in the world, but it has changed a good deal over the years. For one thing, there was no cup until recently, and for another, there was no Glasgow or Edinburgh club till the game went professional. What we have now is an old tradition with a new face.

In the amateur days, the Inter-City was played between two scratch teams selected from Edinburgh and Glasgow clubs. Indeed before the District Championship was created in the middle fifties, it was usually the only match that either of the Selects would play. Nevertheless, along with the North v South game, it was regarded by the national selectors as the first unofficial trial. Its heyday may have been between the wars, a good period in our rugby history, when so many of the greatest Scottish internationalists played for F.P. or academical clubs in the two cities. J.M. Bannerman, Herbert Waddell, J B Nelson were three Glasgow members of the 1925 Grand Slam winning Scotland team, along with. Edinburgh’s Dan Drysdale and G.P.S Macpherson. W.M. Simmers (Glasgow Accies) won 28 Scottish caps from 1926 to ’32. Ross Logan (Edinburgh University and Edinburgh Wanderers) was the Scotland scrum-half for most of the thirties. R.W. Shaw, (Glasgow High School F.P.) was the captain of the 1938 Triple Crown side, hero of a great victory at Twickenham. Scotland that day scored five tries to England’s one. There have been periods since when we haven’t scored that many tries on five visits to that graveyard of Scottish hopes.

Thinking back to these days reminds one of how famous club names have disappeared from international programmes. This is true even in England and France where professionalism was based on clubs rather than districts, provinces or regions. The recent move of Wasps to Coventry served to remind one that the Coventry club itself once used to field outstanding internationalists such as Peter Robbins, one of the best opensides England has ever had, and those glittering wingers, Peter Jackson and David Duckham. Now Coventry have dropped out of the reckoning along with Blackheath, Rosslyn Park, Waterloo, Moseley and the London Old Boys clubs like Old Merchant Taylors and Old Millhillians which actually provided an England half-back partnership of D.G.S. Baker and J.E. Williams, both Lions, in the middle 1950s. In France, too, we have seen once famous clubs like Lourdes, Pau, Tarbes, Mont-de-Marsan, unable to compete with the big city clubs which are often owned and financed by tycoons.

No matter. Things are as they are. The old order changeth yielding place to new, and at least we can say that the Inter-City revamped as the 1872 Cup, and played home and away over the festive season now has a significance and glamour it hasn’t had in our lifetime. It has also – unofficially – taken the place of the Trials which used to be held before the Five Nations international championship, even allowing for the fact that both clubs will field players who are not eligible for the national team.

Glasgow’s league and cup form means they will start deservedly as favourites, even though for the first match at Scotstoun, Gregor Townsend has rested two of Scotland’s brightest young stars, Finn Russell and Jonny Gray. Gray has indeed been in such outstanding form that it must be tempting to have him start every game and play for the full 80 minutes too. His Fijian lock partner, Leone Nakarawa, has been consigned to the bench. They both had terrific games against Munster last weekend, so much so indeed that for the first time I can remember the great Paul O’Connell was only the third best lock on the field. Yet, leaving them out, Townsend is able to bring in Tim Swinson and the club captain, Al Kellock. Stuart Hogg and Alex Dunbar, who both missed the Munster game on account of injury, are back and this certainly makes the Glasgow back division look more threatening.

Edinburgh have, however, been improving, even though one can’t, sadly, read too much into their 48-0 trouncing of Benetton Treviso simply because the Italians were on the day just about the feeblest professional side one has seen for years.

However, Edinburgh have Matt Scott and Ross Ford returning from injury, while David Denton looks, after his stop-start season, to be getting back to the form that made him first-choice for Scotland.

There are two very interesting individual match-ups, first between the scrum-halves, the established but still improving Henry Pyros and Edinburgh’s very promising youngster Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, who is playing well enough to keep Grayson Hart on the bench. The second is between the red-headed flankers, Rob Harley and Roddy Grant. Harley has been starring in match after match this season, while Grant almost never has a bad game. The chance to play for Scotland may be passing him by, but week in, week out, in bad times and good, he does what is required of him for Edinburgh. He probably matters more to his club than anyone else.

It ought to be a cracking match, and no matter what the form book suggests, I’ll be surprised if it isn’t a close one.