THE rare opportunity for Scottish players to lift silverware presents an appetising start to the new year, but the coaches of Glasgow and Edinburgh are also focusing on a far bigger picture.
Experienced Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons is sticking to his mantra of game by game, steps of improvement by steps of improvement, but he knows that a place in the top four and the RaboDirect PRO12 play-offs is what would mark his first season in Scottish rugby as a real success.
In Glasgow, nothing less can be entertained after Gregor Townsend ended his first season at the helm of a club side with a third place and narrow semi- final loss at Leinster, while any hope of European glory in 2013-14 has already slipped through their fingers.
So, while a win, draw or even a defeat by fewer than four points would ensure the 1872 Cup remains in Glasgow tonight, and a win by more than four is necessary for Edinburgh to claim it, PRO12 league points are the big prize at stake.
Townsend, sticking to his modus operandi by shaking up his side again with eight changes, said: “We have a strong squad and these games are very important to our standing in the league but also to our players.
“But the league is our major focus now and four points are on offer for both teams. You can see that the other teams at the top of the league are stretching away so it is important that we do all we can to get those four points.”
Glasgow are currently fourth with a game in hand at home to Treviso, while Edinburgh are seventh, 11 points away from the top four.
“The 1872 Cup is a fantastic derby home and away with a rich history and tradition to it, so clearly it is important,” said Solomons, “but at the end of the day it is part and parcel of a competition. I don’t see that one is at the expense of the other.
“It’s a win-win situation and the first thing that you have to do in any game is endeavour to win the game. This is going to be a very tough contest, derbies are. I thought that we did really well in the game [on Boxing Day] but didn’t take our opportunities, gave away some soft points and paid the price for that.
“So derbies are tight and whatever you do always you first have to secure the win. It’s like teams that play needing a bonus-point victory, when you get ahead of yourselves and start trying to get the four tries you can end up losing the game because you play incorrectly, whereas if you’re patient and composed then you do things steadily and correctly and follow the process, then you have more of a chance to be successful.”
The talk of four points from Townsend, perhaps subliminally, points to the expectation that this will not be an expansive affair with tries galore, but another hugely physical arm-wrestle of a contest. Edinburgh lean on a forward-orientated style and tactical kicking game, although with confidence is coming more threatening back play, while Glasgow’s best chance of victory lies in their ability to punch holes and stretch the visitors’ defence wide.
Winger Tommy Seymour is out with concussion, but stand-off Ruaridh Jackson was said to have reported no concussion symptoms after the Boxing Day clash in which he was replaced after his head collided with Tim Swinson’s knee, so is fit to play. He takes over from Duncan Weir as the starting No 10, with Henry Pyrgos replacing Chris Cusiter at scrum-half which, after good performances by Cusiter and Weir at Murrayfield, follows plans to ensure all four half-backs with ambitions to play for Scotland in the RBS Six Nations are given game-time.
Townsend has also dropped DTH van der Merwe, with Sean Lamont coming back from injury, and Byron McGuigan steps into the outside centre berth.
Up front, Dougie Hall and Ed Kalman replace Pat MacArthur and Moray Low – speculation has linked the tighthead prop with a move to English side Exeter, which Townsend refused to comment on – while Chris Fusaro returns at openside flanker and takes over the captaincy from Cusiter alongside returning No 8 Josh Strauss, with Ryan Wilson dropping out.
One could almost hear a huge sigh of relief envelop the Warriors squad on Boxing Day after they ended a losing run with Stuart Hogg’s late match-winning try, but they have it all to do again as their losing run at home remains stuck on three.Townsend needs to find a way to break the Edinburgh grip that stymied them last week.
The eight personnel changes and two positional switches will inevitably make this a different game – the return of Chris Fusaro should help the breakdown contest and Hogg at full-back from the start may help provide some attacking depth. Richie Vernon’s metamorphosis to centre will see him add a new dimension at 12 or 13 in coming weeks. The coach, however, believes that improvement will come simply from executing the basics of the game more convincingly than of late.
“There are a few reasons we are not producing the rugby we did at the end of last season – a long list,” he sighed.
“One is weather conditions because when the weather is not great, the pitches are heavy and it is different rugby you have to play from when the pitches are dry.
“We have not won enough ball compared to last year – our lineout has not functioned as well – and we have not been accurate enough when we’ve had oportunities, not holding on to ball.
“So there are a number of reasons and we know we have not hit our top game yet but we are striving to do that. But it doesn’t change our ambition. We have got a way of playing that means the fundamentals of the game, winning quick ball, being strong in defence, not putting ourselves under unnecessary pressure, are going to apply no matter who we are playing against.
“The key in a successful attack is getting that quick ball and, if you can do that, you will get opportunities no matter who you are playing against.”
If the Warriors find ways to spark their attack, then it will be a better game than the Boxing Day affair, but it is likely to be another tight, engrossing battle to land silverware both now, and later in the season.
Glasgow Warriors team to play Edinburgh Rugby in the 1872 Cup
15. Stuart Hogg
14. Sean Maitland
13. Byron McGuigan
12. Alex Dunbar
11. Sean Lamont
10. Ruaridh Jackson
9. Henry Pyrgos
1. Ryan Grant
2. Dougie Hall
3. Ed Kalman
4. Tim Swinson
5. Tom Ryder
6. Rob Harley
7. Chris Fusaro (Captain)
8. Josh Strauss
16. Pat MacArthur
17. Jerry Yanuyanutawa
18. Jon Welsh
19. Leone Nakarawa
20. James Eddie
21. Ryan Wilson
22. Niko Matawalu
23. Duncan Weir
Not available due to injury: Gabriel Ascarate (neck), Mark Bennett (foot), Mike Cusack (shoulder), Jonny Gray (ankle), Peter Horne (knee), Al Kellock (arm), Peter Murchie (shoulder) and Tommy Seymour (head/knee)
Edinburgh Rugby team to play Glasgow Warriors
15 Jack Cuthbert
14 Dougie Fife
13 Nick De Luca
12 Ben Atiga
11 Tom Brown
10 Greig Tonks
9 Greig Laidlaw CAPTAIN
1 Alasdair Dickinson
2 Ross Ford
3 Willem Nel
4 Grant Gilchrist
5 Ollie Atkins
6 Cornell Du Preez
7 Roddy Grant
8 David Denton
16 Aleki Lutui
17 Wicus Blaauw
18 Geoff Cross
19 Izak van der Westhuizen
20 Mike Coman
21 Grayson Hart
22 Tony Fenner
23 Sam Beard