Glasgow 23-14 Edinburgh: City rivals festive cracker

Greig Laidlaw
Greig Laidlaw
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WITH the Warriors pack dominating the first period and scrum-half Niko Matawalu providing a lively threat, winger DTH van der Merwe proved to be the main beneficiary with two tries either side of a score by flanker Rob Harley that put the hosts 17-3 up at the interval.

Referee: J Garces (France)

Attendance: 6,000

Edinburgh stunned the home support and delighted their city followers with a third-quarter revival that closed the gap to just six points by the hour-mark, but their comeback was thwarted at that point and the Warriors held on for a well-earned victory.

Back at scrum-half, Greig Laidlaw provided early promise by harrying Glasgow into errors, and Tim Visser and Greig Tonks opened up Glasgow on the left, Matawalu, the Glasgow scrum-half, fortunate to escape censure when he ended Tonks’ run with a tackle around the neck.

But Glasgow quickly responded as a team, scored the opening try in the seventh minute and went on to dominate the first half.

The first score stemmed from a Glasgow lineout on the right and owed much to a mistake by Ruaridh Jackson.

The fly-half’s pass went to no-one but he swiftly re-gathered the ball and skilfully played it out of a double tackle to release Peter Murchie. The full-back ran a great line into the Edinburgh half, drawing the cover, before feeding van der Merwe, and the Canadian’s pace did the rest.

From the restart Sean Lamont, playing at outside centre, broke the Edinburgh defensive line and then the capital side lost their powerful hooker Ross Ford to a shoulder injury, two moments that served only to further dent the Edinburgh confidence.

Props Ryan Grant and Willem Nel were enjoying a real battle, the second row of Al Kellock and Tim Swinson worked well in the set-piece but also looked more aggressive than their opposite numbers about the park, and the home back row of Chris Fusaro, Ryan Wilson and Harley were a step ahead in thought and deed of the Edinburgh trio.

After another Lamont break created field position in the 14th minute, good support play and rucking by Glasgow rolled Edinburgh back on their heels in the 22 and Harley applied the finishing touch.

Matawalu overran a pass from van der Merwe, or might have been in, and Sean Maitland must have thought he was scoring his first Warriors try when he first launched an attack stepping into the stand-off role and then took van der Merwe’s pass and stepped Tonks, only for the gritty Laidlaw to sack him as he was making for the posts. But the Glasgow support were back in full voice after 25 minutes when a good lineout drive sucked in the Edinburgh defence and Matawalu superbly chipped into space for van der Merwe to outpace Laidlaw to the ball and slide over, Peter Horne converting.

The game was always going to be about pressure, and Glasgow’s foot steadily depressed the accelerator, the more the first half wore on and as the teams headed inside there seemed to be no way back for Edinburgh. They were being beaten at the breakdown, beaten in attack and beaten up in defence, and the contrast in the sides’ ability to finish could not be more stark

But, rugby is a funny game. For all the talk of technique and game-plans, much still comes down to desire and a willingness to put bodies on the line. One can only imagine how much paint was stripped off the walls of the visitors’ dressing room at half-time, but there was a vastly different mood about Edinburgh in the second half, and it roused their big support and the scoreboard.

After an early Laidlaw penalty, following his first half kick, they pulled the deficit back within a score, at 17-11, when Piers Francis grabbed their first try nine minutes after half-time.

Laidlaw, a terrific inspiration to the Edinburgh side, released Matt Scott with a sublime pass which picked out the centre and a hole in the Glasgow defensive line, and Scott did superbly to draw two players out of position on the left, including full-back Murchie, before feeding Francis inside, and the stand-off had enough gas to get to the line before the covering Maitland could reach him.

The game then lost a lot of its punch as Glasgow worked their way back to parity in the game, defended firmly and a stalemate broke out with Kellock leading Glasgow back to the centre of the fight.

Edinburgh’s defence was also more resolute in this half, however, and were not about to cough up possession and yards quite so easily.

It was then left to the kickers to make the difference to the scoreboard, Weir slotting two efforts at goal from three attempts and Laidlaw striking a fine 50-metre kick to keep Edinburgh in it, but on the fringes still at 23-14 down as the game headed into the last ten minutes.

Glasgow almost sealed a more convincing and potentially decisivve first-leg adavantage it when a counter-attack launched by replacement Stuart Hogg, the Scotland full-back, who injected a fresh buzz to the match, finished with a flurry of diving bodies into the left-hand corner.

But van der Merwe’s hopes of a hat-trick were dashed by the television match official and what looked like a knock-on as he lunged despairingly for the loose ball.

It was to be the last real chance of the game as it petered out in a series of forward battles that produced little but a bit more venom as well as a nine-point advantage to carry into the return at Murrayfield next Saturday.

Scorers: Glasgow: Tries: Van der Merwe 2, Harley Cons: Horne Pens: Weir 2. Edinburgh: Try: Francis Pens: Laidlaw 3

Glasgow: P Murchie; S Maitland, S Lamont, P Horne, DTH Van der Merwe; R Jackson, N Matawalu; R Grant, P MacArthur, M Low, A Kellock (capt), T Swinson, R Harley, C Fusaro, R Wilson. Subs: J Eddie for Fusaro 22mins, S Hogg for Horne 53, D Weir for Jackson, H Pyrgos for Matawalu, both 61, J Gray for Swinson 72.

Edinburgh: G Tonks; L Jones, M Scott, J King, T Visser; P Francis, G Laidlaw (capt); A Jacobsen, R Ford, W Nel, G Gilchrist, I van der Westhuizen, D Denton, R Grant, S McInally. Subs: A Titterrell for Ford 10mins, S Cox for Westhuizen 15, R Hislop for Yapp 79.