Iain Morrison: Setpiece excellence gives Edinburgh advantage

Phil Burleigh. Picture: Contributed

Phil Burleigh. Picture: Contributed

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The game has changed more since the dawn of professionalism 20-odd years ago than it did in the previous 120 years. We are witnessing evolution on steroids as if someone has accidentally hit the fast forward button.

Immediately after every World Cup campaign is over, World Rugby sanctions another raft of laws to trial and several of them are invariably adopted worldwide. I can think of no other game that is changing with such rapidity and yet... and yet...some things remain steadfastly unaltered, like Orkney’s Ring of Brodgar, impervious to wind, weather and time itself.

Setpiece excellence is one of those things. Edinburgh had it yesterday. Glasgow, despite the hiring of a brand new forwards’ coach in the form of Dan McFarland, did not. When most players are available, Glasgow probably provide no more than one forward to Scotland’s starting pack – Jonny Gray.

Edinburgh enjoyed the whip hand at the scrum because they boast a better front row and they were further aided by the absence of Warriors’ skipper Gray and the 18-odd stones that come with him.

Time and again Edinburgh won free kicks and penalties at the scrum, although matters improved for the visitors in the second half but only marginally.

Edinburgh also dominated the lineouts because, for all his energy around the park, this is one aspect of Fraser Brown’s game that is variable. Twice in the opening 20 minutes the hooker missed his man and, in the next lineout they won, Glasgow took a quick throw as if to make sure that Brown’s fragile confidence didn’t suffer another jab to the ribs. When replaced late on by James Malcolm, the promising youngster twice missed the mark in short order.

It wasn’t just the throws they lost that cost Glasgow because they won several others but did so under so much pressure that the poor scrum-half could barely get the ball away, as Ali Price found to his cost the minute he entered the fray.

Yesterday was Ross Ford’s 150th Edinburgh appearance and he has had issues with throwing in many of them but he seems to have banished his demons, or at least given them Christmas off. He was perfect at the sidelines, his replacement suffered one late hiccup.

This excellence meant that when Edinburgh earned a lineout five metres from the Glasgow line ten minutes from time, they scored a textbook try even with the reserves filling in. Substitute hooker Neil Cochrane found reserve lock Alex Toolis with unerring accuracy and, one driven maul later, John Hardie had a try and Edinburgh had a 12-point cushion they never lost.

Alan Solomons’ side may err on the predictable in some aspects of the game but, when it refers to setpiece excellence, that is no bad thing. Just minutes after Hardie’s try, Edinburgh were driving the visitors back 20 or 30 metres in another maul, rubbing salt in Glasgow’s wound.

If most of the above were to be expected there were still several surprises in store. Phil Burleigh, pictured, looked the more composed and comfortable of the two stand-offs on show. Chris Fusaro shaded Scotland starter Hardie in the first half but the Kiwi bounced back strongly after the break and, when a full-back made a mazy run upfield it was Edinburgh’s Jack Cuthbert rather than Stuart Hogg who was doing the running.

Not everything was topsy turvy. Leone Nakarawa remained the best player on the pitch by a margin, involved twice in the lead up to Mark Bennett’s opening try and now so central to everything Glasgow do it is difficult to imagine them without him.

The final quarter aside, Edinburgh’s backline looked the more dangerous with the ball in hand, especially when they executed their little wraparounds, which created several line breaks. This is at least partly explained by the home forwards’ work at the breakdown where, Hardie to the fore, they slowed the quick ball that is essential to Glasgow’s accelerating, multi-phase attack.

At one point, Grayson Hart was reduced to complaining to the referee about his slow ball when the scrum-half would have been better advised to direct his comments at his own under-performing Glasgow pack.

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