It wasn’t a classic game of rugby but there were no shortage of narrative threads in Saturday evening’s surprise 29-18 win for Edinburgh at Scotstoun, which brought the curtain down on the domestic professional season.
Even in defeat, Gregor Townsend’s last act after a glorious five years as Glasgow head coach, now heading to Scotland with a couple of his Warriors lieutenants, took the lion’s share of attention. For Edinburgh, it was a moment of partial redemption after a traumatic season and allows caretaker Duncan Hodge to revert to his old job as attack coach with head held high as Richard Cockerill prepares to take over as head coach.
It was a couple of former Glasgow players who did much of the damage for Edinburgh as they recorded an impressive win, falling just two points short of retaining the 1872 Cup for a third successive year. Duncan Weir has had a trying couple of months but posted his best performance for a while and outkicked his old rival Finn Russell, while full-back Glenn Bryce scored the late match-securing try.
For one of the least high-profile members of either coaching team, Edinburgh defence coach Pete Wilkins, it was also the end of the road after it was announced last week that he was leaving with a year still left on his deal to be replaced by Scotland Sevens boss Calum MacRae.
Watching Saturday’s game, Wilkins might well have been thinking that a few more defensive displays like this from Edinburgh over the season now gone and he might well have remained in place for the remainder of that contract.
Such was the defensive resolve of the visitors in the first half that they seemed on course for a near-miraculous half-time lead despite being utterly dominated in territory and possession and down to 13 men at one point with both hooker Ross Ford and scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne in the sin bin. Glasgow skipper Jonny Gray surged over to give the home side an 11-9 advantage at the interval in the end but any thoughts that this might spark a Warriors procession in the second 40 proved premature.
Edinburgh responded with a grit, composure and skill which has been so sorely lacking for much of the season. Weir’s boot and a clinical burst from wing Damien Hoyland drove Hodge’s side into a 22-11 lead before Glasgow looked like they might strike back.
One Lion, Tommy Seymour, had a try denied by the TMO before another, Stuart Hogg, did breach the Edinburgh line, before Bryce squirmed over to give his side a deserved win, though the Warriors regained the silverware with a 43-41 aggregate win.
For Edinburgh, a first win in Glasgow since 2003 was more than enough to celebrate and flanker Jamie Ritchie dedicated the spirited triumph to the outgoing Wilkins.
“Our defence coach Pete is obviously leaving, so we owed the performance to him, I think,” said the 20-year-old. “Especially in defence we knew we’re better than we’ve played this season. I’m really chuffed with the effort from the boys.”
Asked if it was frustrating to leave to leave such a defensive display until the last game of the season and after the Englishman had been shown the door, Ritchie said: “I don’t know how long it’s been in the pipeline for, to be honest. It’s just one of those things: it’s the nature of the sport.
“We showed in glimpses this year that we can defend like that. Obviously we’ve had a very inconsistent year, but I think we’ve proved what we can do and hopefully we can take that defensive performance into next year.”
Ritchie admitted that the sight of so many familiar faces in the opposing team did probably get Edinburgh’s blood pumping a bit more than it has been of late, but conceded that motivation should be at those levels week in, week out.
“It’s a derby game so we were definitely up for it. We were disappointed with the first leg [a 25-12 loss on Boxing Day], especially when we were at home. I don’t know what changed. Maybe we were up for it more. It shouldn’t be like that: you should be up for every game. But it was a good performance.”
After what has been a frustrating season collectively and individually, Ritchie is now looking forward to the Richard Cockerill era.
“He’s been in, we’ve all met him and he seems like a really good guy,” said the young forward. “I think we all know what to expect within reason.
“Everyone’s excited for the change. Hopefully he’ll give us a bit of a hard edge, which I think during those nine games [losing run] is what we needed. I’m really looking forward to working with him.”