1872 Cup preview: Edinburgh and Glasgow chase points and pride
But it isn’t all smoke and mirrors, there is real substance to today’s renewal of the inter-city clash. Speak to any player from either side, this is the game they want to play in and the one they want to win.
Of course, the derby match has implications for the Scotland squad ahead of the Six Nations but this East versus West clash of rugby cultures has taken on a life of its own; it matters in itself and not just for local bragging rights.
Both clubs are desperate for league points, Glasgow to get back into the play-off spots where they feel they belong, Edinburgh to climb out of the basement where they feel they don’t. After three years of failure under Alan Solomons, there is a new regime headed by interim coach Duncan Hodge, who is keen to submit a strong application for the permanent post – and he won’t achieve that if Edinburgh are languishing in tenth place.
This is the oldest fixture in world rugby outside of the Test arena which, as Gregor Townsend said last week, assures certain benefits.
“It is easier for a coach,” said the Glasgow boss, “because players are highly motivated and they know the opposition really well, better than I do. They have trained with them with Scotland. They are the ones that go out to play, they are the ones who have played in the last couple of seasons when we did not win.
“We are in the background as coaches. We have to make sure that we play a smart game, as well as one that also has that emotion and aggression that you have every time you play rugby. We have not done that as well as we would have wanted in our last couple of seasons against them.”
Edinburgh seem to save their best for this derby match. In the last two seasons they have finished six and seven places below Glasgow in the Pro12 table but still managed to walk off with the 1872 silverware.
This season they are just four places below their Scottish rivals and even if Edinburgh’s league form has been patchy, their European form has been a revelation.
Moreover, several of the capital side’s youngsters have grown up quickly and, more importantly, without the psychological hang-ups of the older generation who had become wearily accustomed to Glasgow dominating these matches.
“I remember watching the November Tests for Scotland,” Townsend said, “and the emergence of really good Edinburgh players who did well at Test level. So Allan Dell, Hamish Watson played all three, Magnus Bradbury played well against Argentina. These are young guys. When you put them next to Grant Gilchrist, Cornell Du Preez, Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford, who are experienced players, it shows they have a strong side.”
Edinburgh have good players, much better ones than their lowly league position suggests, but Glasgow have a matchwinner in Finn Russell, who has just gone head to head with Dan Carter and emerged with two man-of-the-match awards, enormous credit and, we can safely assume, a healthy sum added to his next salary package.
He will be targeted by Edinburgh and Watson will make it his business to introduce himself to Russell’s ribcage at the earlier opportunity, which is exactly as it should be because, he may have a ten on his back, but Russell now sports a metaphorical bullseye on the front of his shirt. “He loves a challenge, he loves big games,” said his coach when asked about Russell’s rising stock. “There is a lot more to come from Finn and a lot more to come out of his game. He can play lot better. He is full of confidence, his running game is coming through, he is taking defences on with ball in hand and some of his kicking has been excellent. He is the first to admit that there are two or three things that he would have to have back again. That happens a lot at ten as you have so many decisions to make.”
Some of Russell’s kicking from hand against Racing 92 at Scotstoun was ordinary and one pass flew several feet behind its intended recipient but Townsend, who perhaps sees a little of himself in his young protégé, argues that making mistakes is part of the learning process and he is happy to let his playmaker go off piste from time to time.
“Like any of our players, we want [them] to express themselves, play to their strengths, be confident in their own ability.
“He’s obviously very confident just now, going to bottle that and keep that for the rest of his career.”
Never mind the rest of his career, right now Townsend will settle for another 80 minutes of excellence from his fast-improving stand-off this afternoon and the precious league points that would almost certainly follow if he can turn in another commanding performance.