Judged on the outcome of each season, Glasgow have been a better team than Edinburgh for the past five years – but over that period, Edinburgh have lifted the 1872 Cup on four occasions. At first, that success could be written off as the act of a team who had learned to raise their game on the big occasion: a team who had learned to get the better of the Warriors but were nowhere near the same level of consistency.
Now, though, a look at the two Pro14 conferences suggests that the tables may well have turned, and that Richard Cockerill’s side are no longer inferior to their west-coast rivals. The Warriors are fourth in Conference A, having lost more games than they have won, while in Conference B Edinburgh have won five out of seven and are only two points off the top.
But Cockerill, for one, does not believe that too much should be read into those statistics. Yes, his team have improved: he has no qualms about admitting that. But, while acknowledging that the loss of Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg over the past two summers has been a blow to Glasgow, the Edinburgh coach thinks it would be misguided to say that the opponents his team face today are in decline.
“There’s a natural ebb and flow to seasons and I don’t think Glasgow are particularly weaker than previously,” Cockerill insisted yesterday after announcing his team for this, the first of three games that will decide the destination of the cup this season. “They’re a good side and are well coached; they’ve got some very good players.
“But it’s the same for us. I just think Edinburgh as a team have got better, and when you’re leading the charge against being in the pack it’s always easier to chase, and we’ve been chasing Glasgow this last few years to be as good as they are.
“They’ve been very good the last two seasons and been pretty determined most of the year, it’s just we seemed to raise our game against them, and have done well against them the last couple of seasons. You don’t get to tops of leagues and finals like they’ve done without being a good team.
“There’s been a little bit of change in there – last couple of years they’ve lost a couple of key players in that backline. If you take Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg out of any team it makes a difference. That’s just the reality of it.”
“They’re in a different position than they’ve been used to, and it’s a bit like ourselves coming into the game last year. The league points are vital to stay in the hunt. But we’re only a third through the season so there’s plenty time for any side to catch up, whether either team wins or loses the game the next two weekends, it’s not going to be the end of their league season.”
Edinburgh may not have had backs quite as influential as Russell or Hogg in recent years, but they have had a formidable pack – one which has often ended up getting the upper hand over their rivals.
Cockerill has omitted WP Nel from his 23 as the tighthead only made his comeback from injury last week, but has still selected a powerful and versatile group up front, from the sheer brute force of Pierre Schoeman at loosehead to the offloading artistry of No 8 Bill Mata.
Not that Cockerill accepts that his forwards are necessarily superior to the Glasgow eight. “They have a lot of experience and a lot of good players,” he added, warming to his theme that Glasgow should not be underestimated just because some recent results have not gone their way.
“We’re well aware of what their strengths are and what they can do up front. Our forward pack has played well over the past few weeks, the lineout drive has been good, so it will be a full-on contest. These are two good forward packs that should make for a healthy contest.
“I think it’s two evenly matched teams, a sold-out Scotstoun, and we’re looking forward to going there and taking on the challenge of what’s going to be a red-hot derby.”