Interview: Edinburgh’s Grant Gilchrist expects 1872 Cup derby to be emotional

Nobody would compare the heat of 1872 Cup battle to the intensity of an Old Firm football match but Scotland’s now traditional back-to-back inter-city festive rugby showdown, which reconvenes at Scotstoun on Saturday evening, has a feisty history.

Grant Gilchrist has got his hands on the 1872 Cup on a number of occasions. Picture: SNS

With both clubs owned by the Scottish Rugby Union and so many of the competing players knowing each other so well through national squads from youth level up, there can sometimes be a suspicion of cosiness and manufactured rivalry. But Glasgow-Edinburgh games have often been full-blooded affairs, with fracas between Chris Fusaro and Scott MacLeod and then Al Kellock and Jim Hamilton serving as testament to how seriously they are taken by the combatants.

Grant Gilchrist is much less combustible than some of the above, and the Scotland and Edinburgh lock prefers to focus on controlled and disciplined aggression as the 29-year-old prepares to lock horns with the men from the west yet again. “It’s good to play on the emotions of a derby. Both teams are highly motivated and if the emotional side of the game helps you then that’s good,” he said. “It’s the playmakers and the thinkers of the team that need to keep the head and make sure we stick to our game plan as that will be important against Glasgow.”

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Gilchrist is looking forward to playing his Test team-mate Jonny Gray again after spending much of the year with him building up to and playing in the recent World Cup. Going by the pair’s similar temperaments it would be highly surprising to see them go down the Kellock-Hamilton route.

“I get on well with Jonny. He’s one of the best players in Glasgow’s team – we’ll have a good battle the same way we always do, but there’s no animosity there,” added Gilchrist.

“We’ve played together as much as we’ve played against each other and it always adds something extra playing against guys you know well. So come that day, we’ll have our Edinburgh and Glasgow hats on and get stuck in.”

For both Gilchrist and Gray, inset, the return to big club action on the European and derby stage is a chance to get the disappointment of that pool-stage exit in Japan out of their system. “It still frustrates me a bit,” said the Alloa man. “It’s there as a driver to make sure that individually I’m better than I was in Japan and making sure that the frustration and disappointment drives me through the season. I’ve been back for five games now and it’s been good to get in some rugby. We’ve been going well.”

Gilchrist enjoyed his first taste of 1872 Cup action in 2011 and struggles to come to terms with the fact he is now one of the veterans. “I’m not quite the oldest now,” he said with a smile. “Me or Rambo [Stuart McInally] might have played around the same time. Me and [centre] Matty [Scott] broke through the same season.

“Looking around the changing room it does make me feel old but it seems just a few seconds ago it was my first derby.”

Gilchrist admits that spiky Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill has brought an added edge to these games, relishing the chance to get under Glaswegian skins given half a chance. “You can see he enjoys the derby games. He always gets us up for every game but he enjoys the extra spice of a derby, and that comes out in the way he prepares us,” said the lock. “Come next week I’m sure Cockers will be extra on it and have a bit of extra spice to him.”

Gilchrist cites Cockerill’s first derby match as his favourite memory of the contests. The match in December 2017 saw 14-man Edinburgh pull off a sensational comeback win at Murrayfield to end Glasgow’s perfect ten-match start to the Guinness Pro14 campaign.

“Bergy [prop Simon Berghan] got red carded in the first seven minutes. We conceded a try in the first minute and Glasgow had won every game of the season up until that point so they were in incredible form,” recalled Gilchrist. “We lost a man and you could hear in the crowd that they thought it was going to be a hammering but we stuck in.

“It was just pure guts. We showed a lot of heart, a lot of character, and that’s one that will stick with me until the end of my career – guys just dogging it out.”

Gilchrist was speaking as Edinburgh players made their annual pre-Christmas visit to the city’s Sick Kids Hospital. “It’s a really humbling experience. It’s a great thing to be able to do. It’s really important,” he said. “The families and kids going through this sort of thing, it’s tough at any time but at Christmas time it’s even worse, so if we can put a smile on anybody’s face, that’s a good thing. It’s always a bit of a tough experience but it’s humbling and it puts a bit of perspective into our lives and on the things we worry about rugby wise this time of year.”