1872 Cup: Fisticuffs in the past but still plenty edge for old half-back partners George Horne and Ben Vellacott
The opposing scrum-halves met on neutral ground on Wednesday, coming together for a photo-shoot at Stirling Castle to promote the match at Scotstoun. The venue was proposed as a halfway house and the pair hammed it up for the cameras.
“There were a couple of shots when we had to stare at each other, so it was a bit like the boxing head-to-head,” deadpanned Horne. “That would be the light featherweight division.”
They may be small of stature but both players pack a punch and Horne is certainly well enough versed in this particular fixture to know tempers can fray. Familiarity has led to fisticuffs in the past, most memorably in 2010 when Glasgow’s Chris Fusaro and Edinburgh’s Scott MacLeod were sent off for trading blows at Firhill in a not very festive encounter.
“Chris Fusaro had a scrap with Scott MacLeod,” recalled the Glasgow scrum-half. “That was before I was playing, but I do remember it with Edinburgh wearing those bright jerseys. I think Geoff Cross jumped in and held Fuzzy’s arm, so he was just getting melted with no chance to defend himself. Hopefully it doesn’t spill into anything like that this weekend, but it will definitely be physical and confrontational.”
The proliferation of cameras and more stringent refereeing has taken some of the sting out of the occasion and players are unlikely to get away with things they did a decade ago which is all for the good, according to Horne.
“There’s always eyes watching you. The game is probably more physical than it has ever been, but there is obviously a lot less foul and dirty play – illegal clear-outs and stamping and punches and so on – and I think that’s a good thing, to be honest.”
Horne has been in sparkling form this season under Glasgow’s new coach Franco Smith, winning a Scotland call-up in the autumn. He wasn’t used as often as he would have liked by the national team but he knows back-to-back derbies will give him another chance to impress Gregor Townsend. Vellacott will be thinking the same and Horne is looking forward to his joust with the Edinburgh scrum-half.
“I’ve actually not seen Ben for a while. We used to play together when we were younger, so we just had a very friendly conversation. I played ten and he played nine in my first year of under-20s, then he picked up an injury and I moved to nine. We both played nine at our second U20 World Cup together.
“He’s electric around the base so that’s definitely something we will have to be mindful of. With the way we now defend, the scrum-half is out on the edge, so it’s not something that’ll be as important for me, but the big men around the ruck will definitely have to be switched on.”
Vellacott, who has signed a new ‘multi-year’ contract with Edinburgh, got his first taste of the 1872 Cup derbies last season but revealed that this will be the first time he has played against Horne.
“George and I played all the way through from Scotland under-17s to under-20s and were nine and 10 together for a bit,” said the Edinburgh player. “I don’t think we’ve actually played against each other as one of us is always injured so if we play against each other on Friday night it will be great.
“It always gets a little bit heated when you’re up against each other but we’re two nines who see the game very similarly. We both like to chuck the ball around and play at quite a high tempo so it will be an exciting game.”
Since arriving from Wasps in summer 2021, Vellacott has been key to Edinburgh’s fast, running game under Mike Blair and he had no hesitation in committing his future to the club.
“It was a very easy decision to make,” said the 27-year-old. “The main thing for me is how tight knit a group we have at the club and the ambition the club has. We’re getting better season on season and I want to help get Edinburgh back to the top.”
Now firmly ensconced in the capital, Vellacott could have been lining up in Glasgow’s colours if events had taken a different turn. When Townsend was Warriors coach he courted the then Gloucester scrum-half who eventually opted to remain at Kingsholm.
“Yeah, there were some conversations between myself and Gregor when I was at Gloucester to potentially move up. But it wasn’t the right move for me. I don’t think I would have played as much rugby as I did at the time for Gloucester.”
Last season’s derbies were a mixed bag for Vellacott, with Edinburgh losing the first leg at Scotstoun in March then overturning the result in the return match at Murrayfield in May which saw them regain the 1872 Cup and also win the Scottish-Italian Shield.
“I played in both of them,” he said. “I came off pretty early in the game at Murrayfield after I got injured unfortunately but the experience of that was amazing with so many fans. I came off the bench for the game at Scotstoun during the Six Nations. It was very cold, I can tell you that for free! And I remember it was very wet. So I’m looking forward to that again. At the same time it was cool when the crowd is against you. That fuels the fire a bit more and gets into the boys a little bit. We’ll stick together as a group and use that emotion.”
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