Thank goodness for Kelvinside Academy. There are vanishingly few players in the Warriors’ squad who can call themselves born and bred Glaswegians but two graduates of Kelvinside will in all likelihood form the second row partnership in the third 1872 Cup derby of the season; Jonny Gray and Scott Cummings.
With the Guinness Pro14 final at Celtic Park – capacity 60,000 – you can imagine that the league administrators as well as Warrior fans are hoping and praying that Glasgow make the final. There may be a few empty seats if they don’t.
“Obviously, with the final being in Glasgow it would be great,” says Cummings when invited to contemplate an appearance at Celtic Park. “We are not thinking too much about that.
“Last week was Leinster, biggest game of the season so far, and next week is Edinburgh, which is now the biggest game of the season so far. Every week for the past five or six weeks people have been thinking ‘this is the biggest game’, so if we win this we then get a home semi-final.”
So long as Glasgow keep winning they keep playing at home, whether that be Scotstoun or Celtic Park, which is a handy incentive to add to all the others.
The 1872 Cup has already gone east to Edinburgh – who won the first two matches playing a limited but highly effective game – but there is still plenty to play for. The prospect of a home semi-final for Glasgow, as Cummings says, while Edinburgh are holding out hope for a third/fourth place league finish. The latter would, at least, put them in a play-off against Ospreys/Cardiff for next seasons’ Champions Cup, a tournament in which the club showcased the very best of themselves.
After being overlooked for both of the December derbies, Cummings has come good at the sharp end of the season, selected ahead of Gray for the Saracens match in Europe. The subsequent kick in the backside delivered to Glasgow in general, and Gray in particular, seems to have transformed both for the better.
“If we want to be serious about the Pro14 and the Champions Cup in the next couple of years there were certain things that had to change, and we definitely have shored up our defence,” notes the lock. The stiffer defence isn’t the only change at Glasgow. In the last month or so, Cummings has emerged from the chasing pack as the man to partner Gray. Up close the Warriors second rower is surprisingly slight – at 6’ 6” he isn’t short but he doesn’t share the same body shape as, say, Leinster’s James Ryan – but Glasgow head coach Dave Rennie insists that his charge has made progress on the physical side of the game.
Cummings may be a work in progress but he works for Glasgow. The younger man is the ying to Gray’s yang, the athlete to Gray’s grappler, a pairing of cart horse and race horse. It could be the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership if both men can be persuaded to stay at Scotstoun long term.
The young lock escaped the general opprobrium heaped upon Glasgow’s head after that tame Champions Cup exit, since the poor man only lasted 14 minutes before a concussion did for him.
He readily accepts that Gray’s Herculean workload allows others a slightly looser rein to gallop around the paddock but insists that Glasgow have made big strides when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the game, which has long been their Achilles heel, especially when faced with Europe’s elite.
“We have shown in the past couple of games that we can be a dominant style pack,” claims Cummings.
“Everyone always thinks of Glasgow as a flash [team], scoring tries, but we’ve got that solid defence and solid set-piece to back up the flash tries that we are still scoring with the backs, so it’s a more rounded team.”
That part of the equation is true. The Saracens match did Glasgow and Rennie a favour, proving that they needed to build better foundations, and against Leinster, when they fell behind in the middle of the second half, rather than attempt to score a length-of-the-field wonder-try, Glasgow went to the corner and mauled the ball over the Leinster line… twice.
The truth is Glasgow have stolen Edinburgh’s clothes and, here’s the thing, Edinburgh have evidently stolen a leaf from Glasgow’s playbook in return.
When Richard Cockerill’s hard-nosed kick-’n’-chase experts won the first of the two 1872 Cup derbies, they made a total of just 87 passes at Murrayfield. In the second leg at Scotstoun, which they won even more comfortably, Edinburgh managed 141.
Cockerill’s conservative side have made a virtue out of a box-kicking necessity but against Ulster last weekend they abandoned what they do best and threw the ball around like it was an end of season touch tournament, making 217 passes, and finishing a distant second to an aggressive Ulster side.
Edinburgh may well resort to type next weekend because, when backs are up against the wall, most teams do what is familiar. Glasgow, who will have noted the space that Ulster found in the wider channels, will be tempted to do the same but they will also know what that means. Edinburgh’s power game has triumphed in five of the past six derbies as the capital’s pack have held the whip hand, something that Cummings is painfully aware of.
“Obviously derbies are very physical and Edinburgh play really well against us, we know that,” Cummings concedes. “It’s obviously a big game for both of us and we feel we have a point to prove.
“We’ve said it is about channelling your aggression and it’s not about going out to solve problems yourself.
“If something isn’t going well you get together and take a minute to talk and solve it as a team because obviously it’s a team sport. So long as we keep to our process and don’t get caught up in the small scraps, people holding you back, that sort of thing, that’s obviously going to happen in a derby game. It’s just about sticking to the process.
“This is the only one [game] that matters because if we lose this game we are further away [from the final], we’ve got to go to Leinster again!
“We are really just focused on this week, this week is the most important one. Edinburgh is a massive game for so many reasons.”