SCOTTISH rugby has had little to celebrate in recent weeks with Scotland’s Autumn Test series ending with the national coach admitting he could do no more, and both Scottish teams slumping to four straight Heineken Cup defeats.
So, the pressure is on two sets of teams to produce something to cheer Scottish rugby on Friday night when Scotstoun hosts its first 1872 Cup derby with Edinburgh, before the teams savour Christmas with the thoughts of claiming a double success or revenge circling the heads. For James Eddie, one of a handful of players whose pro career was fading last season only for him to storm back into the consciousness with big performances this term, there is no hiding the sense of anticipation.
“The 1872 Cup is just a fantastic thing to be involved in,” he said. “There’s a completely different feeling during the week. Everyone is very excited about it, and wanting to be involved.”
Simple rivalry does that, but throw in the fact that even if current assistant Scott Johnson is appointed interim Scotland coach, as is expected, the new man is likely to want some fresh faces involved in the Six Nations, and there is added intrigue. Eddie is as good a player as some who have been capped, and his intense battle with Rob “Bob” Harley for the Warriors’ No 6 jersey indicates how close he is to a step-up. He shakes his head at the notion, but he knows it.
He said: “There are a lot of one-on-one battles and, yes, for me it’s tough just to get into the Glasgow team. With the recruitment we’ve done this season we could put out two fantastic back rows, but I’m staying injury-free and I felt I played well against Castres [in Sunday’s narrow Heineken Cup defeat in France], so hopefully the coaches will have me involved in some shape or form in the two games.
“I have a good relationship with Bob. We bring different things to games. His work-rate is fantastic and defensively he’s solid, but I feel I maybe bring a bit more in attack, carrying ball. It’s healthy competition and you can never have too much competition. We definitely push each other very hard and that helps you get the best out of yourself.”
One aspect of Glasgow’s performance in France that cost them was the mounting penalty count, which led to two players being sin-binned and Castres taking advantage to clinch the game. There is every chance this Friday’s encounter will spill over with the emotions and desires to put one over on opposite numbers coming to the fore. Eddie is acutely aware of that, but acknowledges that there is a responsibility on pro players to “keep the heid”, and to put on a performance for what is expected to be a capacity Scotstoun at the end of a tough year for fans.
“There are a lot of one-on-one battles and some players react differently to that than others. But I like to just focus on my job and let my play do the talking, because, in games like these, you have to stay emotionally sensible.
“We certainly get worked up for the game, as we do with any, but Edinburgh have a very good game on the counter-attack and guys like Tim Visser and Matt Scott are good runners, so it’s important that you make the right decisions under pressure, and in the set-piece you do your job well.”
He recalled: “I came to Glasgow games as a kid and back then dreamed of being a professional player, so now to be involved in these games is amazing. My best memory of the games is probably of looking at Murrayfield one week, and I wasn’t involved, and then we came back to Firhill and I was playing and we beat them and it was just an unbelievable experience. And you feel it now. You just know this is an Edinburgh week. You can cut the atmosphere with a knife; everyone’s so buzzed up and the teams will bounce off each other when we get out there on Friday.
“But we also know that we represent Scotland and we know people have been disappointed with the way we’ve performed, so these games will be a great opportunity for us to show people that we do deserve two Scottish teams in the Heineken Cup, which is in the balance at the moment.
“And there is no doubt that for all the talk about Scotland and pushing ahead of rivals, this is about Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the win is undoubtedly more important than the one-on-ones. But if everyone does their job and gets one over their opposite man then we’ll get the win.”
When asked whether there had been any resentment in the camp at the large number of Edinburgh players selected for the Autumn Tests, at a time when Glasgow were out-performing their rivals, the forward shook his head and insisted that he had not been aware of that.
“I just keep my head down and get on with it,” he said, before adding with a smile: “But, I think the likelihood is that whoever wins the 1872 Cup will have more guys in the Scotland squad for the Six Nations, so I guess that answers your question.”
There is nothing to beat a good rivalry in rugby, and when the teams are announced today the countdown will begin to a two-legged affair Scottish rugby is looking for to breathe new life into the game.