THE pendulum of momentum has swung Edinburgh’s way in the build-up to Thursday’s first Scottish derby of the RaboDirect PRO 12 season, and home
skipper Greig Laidlaw is eager to take the renaissance to another level with a Boxing Day victory.
THE pendulum of momentum has swung Edinburgh’s way in the build-up to Thursday’s first Scottish derby of the RaboDirect PRO 12 season, and home skipper Greig Laidlaw is eager to take the renaissance to another level with a Boxing Day victory.
Glasgow started the season with five wins on the trot, while Edinburgh claimed just one win in their first five. Had this battle for the 1872 Cup taken place in October, Edinburgh supporters would have been fearing an embarrassment. But now they head into Christmas Day on the back of four victories in their last five league matches, with no less than Gloucester and Leinster the recent scalps.
Adding spice to the occasion, their greatest rivals have suffered three defeats on the trot at Scotstoun and managed just two wins from four in the league, just two from six bringing the Heineken Cup slide into the mix.
Momentum is a common word in a coach’s lexicon, so important is it to building confidence and to teams pushing through to victories. No wonder then that Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons and Laidlaw wore wide smiles as they spoke to the media yesterday, despite being blown across the Murrayfield back pitches in a blustery training session.
“Everyone knows what derby games are like,” said Laidlaw, making no attempt to hide his zeal. “Of course there are bragging rights, and we desperately want to win the games. All credit to Glasgow; they’ve been on top the last few years but we’re going out there to reverse that this year.
“We can control what’s in our four walls and if we get our part right we’ll put ourselves in with the best possible chance of coming away with the points. Confidence is building at the right time after a good win down the road at Gloucester and a good win here against arguably the best team in Europe [Leinster]. They rested a couple of players, but you can only beat who’s in front of you and we did that, and we’re confident at the moment.”
Glasgow full-back Stuart Hogg, brought up just ten miles from Laidlaw in the Borders, admitted last week that the rivalry is a good thing, laughing that “everybody hates Edinburgh”. It was clearly a joke, but the fact that one newspaper played it up as a serious issue has infuriated the Warriors camp. A bit touchy perhaps? An indication that they are feeling the pressure?
In fact, sport thrives on rivalries, and Laidlaw acknowledged that it was not only healthy for the Scottish game but necessary that the two professional sides engender a strong rivalry and stir passions inside and outside the camps. “Definitely. That’s how things get built and it will be great if another big crowd comes along on Boxing Day,” he said.
“This is where we need to build the game in Scotland, through the pro teams down and up, and, hopefully, we can put on a good spectacle this week. For our fans at Edinburgh, Glasgow have had the upper hand for the last few years and we want to reverse that this year, and build our fan support here.”
Laidlaw is an aggressive player, and his duel with Chris Cusiter will be fascinating – for Cusiter outshining the Edinburgh nine is a clear route back to the Scotland jersey – but the home skipper is keen to ensure none of his players get carried away to the extent that led to yellow and red cards for fighting in the past.
“I lead the same way in every game but derbies sometimes boil over – boys want to impress – so the referee [Neil Paterson] has got a big role as well. He’ll have to be strong in the middle and make sure he controls it.
“I’ll control my players. They have respect for me just as I have respect for them and if I tell them to calm down they’ll calm down. We won’t be worrying about that; we’ll just be worrying about the performance.”
History is certainly with Glasgow as the only time that Edinburgh have won an 1872 Cup game in their last nine encounters back as far as 2008 was the 28-17 victory at Murrayfield on 2 January, 2011. But, Edinburgh are a different animal now, having started to get to grips with the playing style and stringent demands of their South African coaches Solomons and Omar Mouneimne, alongside Stevie Scott and French skills coach Philippe Doussy. They still seem a bit behind Glasgow in team ethic and understanding, but Edinburgh are eager to close the gap this week.
Edinburgh have lost just once at Murrayfield in the league this season, while the Warriors have won every PRO12 game away from home. Solomons was quick to caution against a belief that his side had turned the mythical corner, or that they were now in some way less beatable. But there is a clear lift in confidence, stemming from players appearing to feel more comfortable in the new systems of defence and attack that Solomons has introduced.
The coach and captain agreed that the greater understanding is now leading to a greater confidence, both to stick to the new systems in defence and retain belief through phases in attack. Solomons spoke also of a clear bond and spirit strengthening across the squad, helped enormously by the back-to-back wins against English and Irish opposition.
As the players enjoy a one-day break tomorrow for Christmas, the focus remains on maintaining the upward trajectory and handing themselves the first 1872 Cup present on Boxing Day.