Scotland captain John Barclay is facing a race against time to be back for the start of the Six Nations after his expected return to action was pushed back to “late January-early February”.
The back-row forward, who ruptured an Achilles playing for Scarlets in last season’s Guinness Pro14 semi-final in Glasgow, had been ruled out for the rest of the year, and hasn’t featured for his new club Edinburgh. Coach Richard Cockerill reported yesterday: “He’s likely to be the end of January, early February at this moment in time.”
Scotland begin their Six Nations campaign at home to Italy on 2 February.
Cockerill, meanwhile, is hoping that Edinburgh can carry their excellent European form into the festive double header against Glasgow, which starts at BT Murrayfield on Saturday.
If last season’s 1872 Cup matches provided an opportunity to “poke the Glasgow bear”, the Edinburgh coach is viewing the renewal of the inter-city rivalry as simply a crucial chance to bank badly needed Pro14 points.
Cockerill inspired his players to a couple of wins over Glasgow to reclaim the 1872 Cup but, with his side currently fifth in their Conference B, seven points adrift of the play-off spots, it’s points not prizes that are at the forefront of his mind.
“Those two wins were good wins for us last year to get the 1872, but very much like last year we’re more interested in the league points than bragging rights, we need the league points,” he said.
“Glasgow are in great form. Them and Leinster are probably the best two sides in the competition, and if you let them play the way they want to play, they’re a very good team.”
For all that Cockerill played down the 1872 Cup win at the time as “parochial” compared with the more important push to reach the Pro14 play-offs and return to the top table in Europe, where they have enjoyed a dream surge to the top of their pool, he agreed that the win in the corresponding fixture last season had provided a shot in the arm.
This time last year, Edinburgh bounced back from the blow of having tighthead prop Simon Berghan sent off early to end Glasgow’s unbeaten start in the Pro14.
“I think it [the 18-17 win] proved to our players that if our mindset was right we could compete and play against the best teams even with one of our guys sent from the field early on,” he said.
Despite being holders of the trophy, which will see a return at Scotstoun the following Saturday before a potentially deciding third game later in the season, Cockerill was keen to keep the favourites tag on Dave Rennie’s side.
“We’re definitely underdogs,” said the Englishman. “Their league form has been outstanding, they make the most linebreaks, they’re scoring over four tries a game on average, so they’re a very good side, aren’t they? But we have a certain way of playing, we control territory and we like to put teams under pressure.”
Cockerill revealed Scotland centre Matt Scott is unlikely to be fit for Saturday as he continues to recover from concussion, but flanker Jamie Ritchie, who missed Sunday’s 21-8 win at Newcastle, could return from a quad injury.
The coach said he is ready to unleash his strongest possible teams in the next two games.
“We rested [our internationals] against Munster, we’ll have Kings [in January] where we’ll probably rotate and then we’re back into Europe,” he said.
“Whoever’s fit, we’ll be picking our best team.”