Both the captains of Edinburgh and Glasgow return to their respective starting XVs for the rejigged, second leg of the 1872 Cup that was originally scheduled for New Year’s Day only for Scotstoun to disappear under several feet of water.
Kellock’s recall was aided by an illness to fellow lock Tim Swinson but there was no such succour for Stuart Hogg. The fullback’s ban for that rash tackle in Cardiff during the Six Nations is up but Gregor Townsend is sticking with the back three that performed pretty well last time out against Ulster.
In the forward pack Ryan Grant comes in for Gordon Reid, who has impressed in recent outings, and Rob Harley takes over the number six shirt with Josh Strauss shuffling over to No 8 and Ryan Wilson named among the substitutes.
In the backs the coach has made just one change to his starting line-up. Peter Horne’s troublesome knee reacted badly after the Ulster match, his first start of this campaign, so Horne sits this one out. Finn Russell moves back to inside centre and, in a move that will raise an eyebrow or two, Ruaridh Jackson takes over the No 10 shirt in the same week that his move to Wasps this summer was confirmed. Duncan Weir, Scotland’s starting ten throughout the Six Nations Championship, has to be content with a place on the bench.
“Peter Horne had a slight reaction to the game at the weekend,” Townsend explained. “His knee was a bit puffy. He was out for a long time with that ACL and he has done really well with his recovery, but we felt he wouldn’t be right for the weekend. Finn has been the 12 for the few weeks before that.
“When you put a team together you are looking to reward form, but also players who are more suited to the way you want to play. That’s the selection.”
Rumours suggest that neither Jackson or Chris Cusiter was offered another contract by Glasgow, although the veteran scrummy is playing out of his skin and the stand-off, long a favourite of Townsend’s, looks a better fit with Glasgow’s adventurous style of play than Weir, who has just signed a two-year extension. Jackson started five of Glasgow’s six Heineken matches, Weir just the one… but he will be at Scotstoun next season.
Townsend was at pains to explain that all stand-offs need to exhibit all-round skills, kicking, distribution, option-taking and so on, but the coach likes to play a New Zealand-style second five-eighth, in effect a second distributor, and he did concede that letting his one-time protégé move elsewhere had not been an easy decision.
“Ruaridh [Jackson] is obviously a really good attacker,” said the coach. “He has good catch-pass skills, he is experienced in these games and he has played well in the two games against Edinburgh last year. One of our best attacking performances was against Leinster away and Ruaridh played really well that day.
“I have worked with Ruaridh since he came into the Scotland team and work with him closely now as well. He has been a great player for the club and it is a fantastic opportunity for him to play well at the weekend.
“It was a difficult decision [letting him leave]. You believe in all the players, especially the ones you have built up good relationships with. I saw scenarios where both of them [Jackson and Weir] could still have been here next year, but these are the decisions you have to make. It is the reality of professional rugby.”
Edinburgh barely generated enough energy to light a match against Zebre last Saturday but they are sure to work up a head of steam for this derby, especially after being robbed at Murrayfield. Edinburgh dominated long stretches of the first leg and only two errors by Greig Tonks allowed Glasgow to steal the points, if not the plaudits, when Hogg was first to DTH van der Merwe’s kick ahead in the final quarter.
“For the first 50 or 60 minutes they [Edinburgh were the better team and we didn’t play as well,” Townsend conceded. “That was partly because Edinburgh played well but we went away from the game plan we wanted to play. But we kept playing for 80 minutes and took our opportunities. It was a tough place to get the win because at that time Edinburgh were playing some really good rugby. The team they have picked is a quality side, probably the best forward pack they could put out.”
But still the odds are stacked against the capital club. Edinburgh last lifted the 1872 Cup in 2009, it is over three years since they won a game against the Warriors and Edinburgh haven’t tasted victory in Glasgow since 2003. Should Glasgow win they would not only keep the cup for a fifth successive year but they would occupy second in the
PRO12 (equal with Munster on 68 points but above the province having won one more match) with the reward of a semi-final at Scotstoun if they finish in that same position.
Glasgow: Murchie, Maitland, Bennett, Russell, Seymour, Jackson, Cusiter; Grant, Hall, Welsh, Gray, Kellock (capt), Harley, Fusaro, Strauss. Subs: MacArthur, Yanuyanutawa, Low, Nakarawa, Wilson, Matawalu, Weir, Vernon.
Edinburgh: Cuthbert, Brown, Scott, Strauss, Visser, Bezuidenhout, Laidlaw (capt); Dickinson, Ford, Nel, Gilchrist, van der Westhuizen, Coman, Du Preez, Denton. Subs: Hilterbrand, Blaauw, Berghan, Toolis, Leonardi, Hart, Francis, Beard.