Edinburgh’s John Hardie relishing 1872 Cup debut

John Hardie has not played against Glasgow but is experienced in derby intensity in the southern hemisphere. Picture: SNS
John Hardie has not played against Glasgow but is experienced in derby intensity in the southern hemisphere. Picture: SNS
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THE irony will not be lost on Gregor Townsend or his players. The season that the Warriors finally tasted success at league level, Glasgow also managed to lose the only other silverware they have ever lifted… the 1872 Cup.

A brace of tries from Tim Visser at Murrayfield decided the destination of the cup last season but only after Sean Lamont ran over Tom Brown to help give Glasgow a ten-point first-leg lead.

Pity poor Brown. The slight winger is a wonderfully elusive runner but he looks like he’d blow away in a big wind and he is facing a hurricane storm this afternoon in the guise of Taqele Naiyaravoro. The big Fijian must be rubbing his hands in anticipation of the carnage to come. If Brown isn’t praying for rain, he should be.

But these inter-city derbies are usually won at the coal face which is the stamping ground of 1872 new boy John Hardie. The Kiwi flanker chucked in his lot with Scotland just ahead of the World Cup and makes his debut in this 1872 tie but he is no stranger to the sniff of cordite during a derby.

Otago versus Southland was the big one in the ITM Cup, he recalls, but then again the Highlanders/Crusaders clashes weren’t exactly for the fainthearted. Is he keen to experience the oldest fixture outside the international calendar?

“I am looking forward to it,” Hardie confirms, never using three words when two will do. “A few (Glasgow) boys I played with for Scotland and no doubt it will be big 80 minutes and there will be no love lost in it.

“It would be great to get off to a good start in this first 80 against Glasgow (at Murrayfield) and then look forward to a big game at Scotstoun as well. I heard it was a dominant performance (last season) and we’ll be looking to replicate that but Glasgow are playing really good rugby at the moment and we are going to have to counteract that and play our game and hopefully things work out.”

If Hardie is a student of openside play he probably reads books written by monks because he is inarguably old school in his approach: unerringly polite off the field and unfailingly aggressive on it. In an era when maintaining the defensive lines is paramount he, at least in Scotland colours, is given freedom to do his own thing, to break ranks, especially in pursuit of the opposition stand-off whom he targets remorselessly.

He is sure to keep a weather eye on Finn Russell this afternoon and introduce himself in time-honoured fashion if he gets half a chance because so much of what Glasgow do goes through him; not that Hardie is prepared to admit as much. “They have quality right over the paddock,” argues the Kiwi. “They have got a lot of international players that have played at a high level and can handle international pressure. It will be tough. We can’t concentrate on anyone too much, we’ll just concentrate on ourselves and what we have to do and (the result) will take care of itself.”

Edinburgh hold the cup but they haven’t won in Glasgow since 2003 so if they are to retain the only silverware they have ever won you fancy they will need to win today and by a margin.

They have been desperately inconsistent – a curate’s egg of a team, good in parts – although the muscular pack should hold its own and the backs have weapons if they haven’t forgotten what to do with the ball, so rarely do they see it.

In the absence of David Denton and with Hardie’s old playing partner from the Highlanders, Nasi Manu, nursing an injury, Cornell du Preez fills in at eight with another Kiwi flanker, Mike Coman, on the blindside.

The capital side are not always pretty to behold, they play little enough rugby in their own half of the field and they lack a top-class stand-off, although Phil Burleigh may yet become one, but at least Edinburgh displayed a little grit last week. After being heavily beaten by London Irish in Reading, Edinburgh toughed out the return match at Murrayfield with Hardie in the van, scoring a try and keeping the Exiles at bay.

“It was a must-win game for us,” he says of last weekend’s three-point win.

“We weren’t too happy with how things went over in Reading and we wanted to set it right. We didn’t do everything right but it was positive we got the win. We got it at the right time and it will help going into Glasgow.

“It’s a quality pack when you have a team like that. A few injuries as well but we are looking really strong, it definitely helps a lot when you have a pack like that going forward and you are just sitting on the back of it.”

This afternoon’s match will offer a contrast in styles that even the rugby illiterate will be able to see from space. Edinburgh will look to their pack, one-out runners and Burleigh’s boot to put them in the right place. Glasgow will move the ball even from deep if and when the opportunity arises and they will surely exploit Naiyaravoro’s idiomatic talents by giving him the ball on the blindside at every available opportunity.

Even in the absence of prop forward Ali Dickinson, Glasgow know that Edinburgh will come at them in the set piece and the driving maul. To a man who was bred in the modern world of Super Rugby, might Edinburgh’s tactics be seen as just a little negative?

“Nah, I don’t think it’s negative,” Hardie counters. “I think set piece is the first thing you have to do, it starts off your game. It’s one of your strengths and we’ll use it but we have quality right across the paddock and we can do things. I don’t think we have shown our best yet.”

This afternoon would be a good time to do so.