Edinburgh found themselves in the odd position of having actually achieved their main goal of the season fifteen minutes before this match kicked off at Murrayfield; Munster’s draw with Ulster, a match that finished just before this one started, guaranteed Richard Cockerill’s team a place in the play-offs and next season’s Champions Cup.
That news could have sucked some of the life out of last night’s 1872 decider but instead it seemed to lift a weight off the two teams who put on a rare display of attacking rugby for the healthy crowd of more than 25,000. There were tries a plenty, six in all, three to each team, five in the opening 40 minutes. At one stage in the first half the teams looked like two heavyweights standing toe-to-toe and trading blows until only one was left standing.
The scrums were even but Grant Gilchrist bossed the sidelines for Edinburgh, winning almost every one of the home team’s throws. James Johnstone had a good tussle with Nick Grigg and in Bill Mata Edinburgh boasted the best carrier on the pitch.
Overall the Edinburgh forwards had an edge in the all important contact zone. They home side were just that little bit hungrier, stopping Glasgow’s quick ball and dominating possession and territory so the visitors usually had a long way to go when they finally got hands on the ball.
There was some typical derby aggro going on which referee Nigel Owens did his best to ignore. Ryan Wilson and Magnus Bradbury had a wrestling match that went on for several minutes while everyone else was playing rugby. Russell had a plenty to say to Duhan van der Merwe who ran right over several white shirts like so many speed bumps and the two tightheads, Zander Fagerson and Simon Berghan, had a spat at one point.
The large crowd waited just 11 minutes for the opening score, it went to the visitors and against the run of play. In a rare visit to the Edinburgh half Finn Russell made a well-judged kick-pass that fell perfectly for DTH van der Merwe and Edinburgh full-back Dougie Fife missed a difficult tackle that had to be made. When Russell’s conversion went in off the upright you fancied it might be his night and certainly the stand-off was back to his best.
Edinburgh worked their way into the Glasgow red zone and turned the screw. One loose pass went to ground but Jaco van der Walt flipped it off the ground to Jamie Richie. The flanker fed Junior Rasolea who found James Johnstone on the left flank. He only had a little space but it proved enough and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne made a superb conversion.
Glasgow hit back almost immediately with a scorcher of a score. Russell fed Nick Grigg on a short line and the little man broke the Edinburgh line before feeding George Horne. Russell got the ball back, beat several defenders with a mazy run and dummy pass before going overhead for the supporting Cullum Gibbens to score under the posts.
Edinburgh responded with a pick and drive forwards’ try, eventually falling to Samoan prop Jordan Lay. It wasn’t a thing of beauty but it got them back on terms with their visitors since they are all worth five points.
With the last play of the half Edinburgh took a leaf from the Glasgow playbook and took the lead at the break. Hidalgo-Clyne’s inch perfect kick to the left-hand corner sat up nicely for Duhan van der Merwe in an almost exact copy of DTH’s opening score. Same name, same score, different teams. Another touchline conversion from the scrum-half gave Edinburgh a 21-14 advantage at the break.
The breakneck speed of scoring inevitably slowed in the second half. Wilson was fortunate not to see yellow when he tripped Hidalgo-Clyne. Cockerill screamed: “It’s cynical, get him in the bin” and it was hard to argue with the Edinburgh boss on this occasion.
Edinburgh pounded away at the Glasgow line but George Horne, the smallest man on the field including the match officials, won a turnover and Glasgow raised the siege.
Russell’s 50-yard touch finder when awarded a free kick turned defence into attack with one piece of quick thinking.
Edinburgh worked their way out of trouble only when Stuart McInally made a brilliant interception but didn’t have the legs to go the length. Glasgow’s stressed defence infringed and Duncan Weir, only recently arrived on the scene, stretched Edinburgh’s lead by three; the first points of the second half arriving on 66 minutes.
That seemed to spur Glasgow into action. Tongan prop Siuo Halanukonuka made a startling run down the middle of the field and, after a few plays, DTH van der Merwe brushed off Nathan Fowles tackle to score his second in the corner. We had a five-point game with ten minutes left on the clock.
A little later Adam Hastings made a similar, clean break and a few phases later DTH thought he had a hat-trick in the exact same place only for Owens to award an Edinburgh penalty.
Glasgow pressed hard in the closing exchanges but on Cockerill’s watch Edinburgh defence is not the soft touch it once was and the home side were the ones with more than one reason to celebrate the final whistle.