Edinburgh’s dynamic flanker will give his all again at Scotstoun as he seeks to make amends for Boxing Day defeat
IT HELPS if you watched rugby during the 1970s but there is an old joke much beloved of Max Boyce which tells of a dog that miraculously barks every time Wales beat England at the Cardiff Arms Park. What does it do, the owner is asked, when England triumph in Cardiff? “I don’t know,” comes the reply, “I’ve only owned him for ten years.”
Edinburgh’s record against Glasgow isn’t quite that bad yet but it isn’t too clever. They are in danger of losing the 1872 Cup for the fifth consecutive time unless they pull out something special at Scotstoun in the second leg of the derby on Wednesday evening.
If location, location, location is everything when it comes to buying property then momentum, momentum, momentum are the three most important things in sport. For the first 40 minutes of their 20-16 defeat at Murrayfield on Boxing Day, Edinburgh had the “big mo”. This derby has been won in recent years by the Glasgow forward pack bullying Edinburgh into submission but the tables were turned in the first half with David Denton getting over the gain line every time of asking and Edinburgh holding the whip hand in the set scrum.
To their credit, Glasgow’s big men wrested back the initiative after the break, won a crucial turnover at the breakdown, a key area in their revival, and Stuart Hogg did the necessary with a try. It says something about the paucity of Edinburgh’s second-half performance that Glasgow fielded their No.8 Ryan Wilson at inside centre for 38 minutes and the home side failed to exploit or even expose the fact.
If Edinburgh were looking for silver linings from that loss then the performance of Roddy Grant was one of them. The ginger-haired flanker walked away with the man of the match award but admitted afterwards that he would have given up a hundred such in exchange for the 1872 Cup. He is one of numerous Edinburgh players never to have lifted the cup. He had the honour of leading his team on to Murrayfield on Thursday evening because the match marked his 100th appearance in Edinburgh colours, even if he didn’t feel much like celebrating immediately afterwards.
“It’s just gutting at the moment,” said Grant. “I suppose looking at the bigger picture and coming on to this game it’s great I’ve been playing well. I think I said to the press a couple of weeks ago that there is always competition for positions but this year especially there is intense competition.
“With [coach] Alan [Solomons], he’s tough, if you don’t perform you are out and, when you are in, you have to be playing well. I think that’s helped me personally as well. I suppose it’s extra motivation, you need to be playing well to be in [the team].”
If there is any truth in that then a few Edinburgh players will be nervously awaiting selection. Jack Cuthbert had a bad day at the office, spilling a pass with the line begging, dropping a couple of high kicks and losing the ball in contact more than once. Solomons will be tempted to move Greig Tonks back to full-back after experimenting with him at stand-off for the last three matches but he should resist.
Tonks made a couple of mistakes, two crucial ones in the lead-up to Hogg’s try, but still he did enough with the ball in hand to be worth another look. One deft pass in the first half almost sent Tom Brown under the Glasgow posts and another little cross-field kick after the break aimed at replacement winger Sam Beard was clever thinking, even if his aim could have been better and that, according to Grant, summed up Edinburgh’s afternoon.
“They played well in the second half but, from our side, it was inaccuracies. If we had kept going like we were in the first half there was no doubt that we would have, and we should have – we were up at half time – won the game and closed it out.
“You give teams, let alone a good kicker like Duncy [Duncan Weir], ways out and penalties to build the score and it’s easy for teams to get in the game or stay in the game. In the first half we did well, so we can keep winning collisions [in Wednesday’s game]. Just do the basics right and play to our strengths and we’ll be good. The loss was down to inaccuracies at the breakdown or knock-ons, basically just releasing pressure. Glasgow are a good side and, if you release pressure on them and give them opportunities, then they will take them. I suppose it’s making sure our game is 100 per cent clean and efficient.”
Grant uses the phase repeatedly, 100 per cent, which is somehow appropriate given it was his 100th match and 100 per cent is the only way he knows how to play. He finished the Boxing Day derby with several stitches in his face but stayed the course.
He is small for a professional rugby player, not even six foot, but gritty and honest and determined with the staying power of the Duracell bunny.
What might worry Solomons is the lack of leadership in that second 40 minutes when Edinburgh failed to add a single point to their first-half tally. As soon as Weir kicked Glasgow’s fourth and fifth penalties to drag his side to within one point of Edinburgh, the coup de grace seemed almost inevitable and all too few Edinburgh players were making the point that something had to change.
Even in the absence of Al Kellock the Glasgow forwards were full of encouragement and advice for each other, or at least it looked that way from the press box. As for the rematch on Wednesday at Scotstoun, Edinburgh know that the advantage lies with their West Coast rivals but they also know that Glasgow have lost their last three home games, so there is a bit of rugby still to be played and Grant insists that, on Thursday’s final whistle, his first thought was of revenge.
“100 per cent, as soon as the whistle went! We’re absolutely gutted and they are thrilled and the immediate thought is winning there [at Scotstoun] and winning by enough… is it five points for the cup?
“I think we drew it in the first year I was involved so 100 per cent we want it back and we need league points as well. It’s not just about the trophy, we need a win for the RaboDirect league as well.”
Whatever else happens on Wednesday, you can be sure that Edinburgh’s 100 per cent flanker will be giving his all.