YOU might imagine that Glasgow flanker Chris Fusaro is fighting against Edinburgh for glory in the 1872 Cup this afternoon, end of. Scratch the surface and you find that the diminutive flanker is waging war on several fronts.
He is not just playing against Edinburgh, he is playing against John Hardie for the right to wear the Scotland No.7 shirt which is currently in the Kiwi’s hands. Look closer and Fusaro has rivals closer to home. If he wants to start the big European games for Glasgow then the man universally known as “Fuzzy” has to keep “cousin” Simone Favaro sidelined.
Fusaro is also fighting a battle with Edinburgh’s playmaker Phil Burleigh, who likes to take the ball flat and, of course, “Fuzzy” is fighting any opposition player foolhardy enough to carry the ball into contact when the little flanker is on guard. This is the one place Fusaro can create a point of difference because none of his rivals in Scotland specialises in turnovers the way that Wallaby Michael Pocock did in the World Cup.
But perhaps Fusaro’s toughest opponents this afternoon are the demons whose malign whispers occasionally rise to a crescendo too strident to ignore, as happened back in 2011 when he and Edinburgh lock Scott McLeod were both sent packing after exchanging a flurry of punches, none of which would have troubled Tyson Fury.
“I didn’t want to bring that up,” says a rueful Furaso. “It was a long time ago and, I’ve said it before, it was my mother who was the most disappointed. You definitely learn from those things. I was young and a lot more foolish. You definitely have to keep the head and focus on your game.”
“It is easy to get up for the game and maybe striking the balance… it is a fine line in terms of being legal and illegal and playing at seven you are on a knife edge.
“When it’s against Edinburgh it’s easy to get up for the game, the rivalry has been there for years before I played. Even watching the games as a youngster there was an excitement about one day hoping to play in those games. It’s not difficult to get up for it, keeping your head on the pitch, you have to make sure you keep a lid on it and focus your energy on doing positive things.”
It wasn’t just the fact that Glasgow lost the cup last season, it was the manner in which they did so that must have caused some concern. Edinburgh have been the Cinderella of Scottish rugby for so long that almost everyone had forgotten that they too possess a bite, especially when the “Weegie Warriors” make the trip east.
Last season Edinburgh won all the big collisions in that decisive second match at Murrayfield and when Glasgow attempted to make up a modest two-point aggregate deficit their famed attack proved toothless in the face of some determined home defence. The setback proved a blessing, even if Glasgow struggled to swallow their medicine at the time.
“We’d won the cup three or four years prior to that,” says Fusaro (it was actually five). “To lose to your main rivals is bitterly disappointing. A lot of guys will still be hurting from that and that will help them get up for the game. Not to sound clichéd but losses early in the season can really galvanise you and after that it maybe did give us a wee kick up the backside and help us go on and do well in the league and make the play-offs.
“In those games we maybe tried to take Edinburgh on where they are too strong and it didn’t really work out for us. They are very strong where they defend just outside the ruck and if you run at them there you are going to get turned over. I was watching the games on TV and a lot of the time I was screaming at the television and tearing my hair out. It was a difficult one to take.”
Even if last year’s defeat sent Glasgow on their way to becoming Pro12 Champions, they have no intention of losing the derby match this time out. As things stand, Glasgow are two points ahead of Edinburgh in the league with a game in hand and one point shy of Leinster, who occupy fourth place. Two wins would probably catapult Gregor Townsend’s team into the play-off places.
Edinburgh are an improving team. Anton Bresler is fit again at lock, Rory Sutherland can’t match Alasdair Dickinson’s set piece expertise but he brings plenty of dynamism to open play and the Super Rugby backrow will keep Fusaro and Finn Russell on their toes. So too will a useful midfield partnership of Burleigh and Matt Scott, which suggests that Edinburgh’s backs will threaten, at least in the final third of the field.
After a jittery start to the season Glasgow’s World Cup players are bedded back in and the Warriors are beginning to hit their stride. It was evident in the second half of their match against the Scarlets at Scotstoun when they ran in five tries, but the appalling conditions in west Wales dominated the return match last Saturday – more than either team managed, although Glasgow still came away with a win.
What’s more they did so despite earning two yellow cards, for Sean Lamont and Favaro, which saw them reduced to just 13 players for seven long minutes. Meanwhile Fusaro was playing for Stirling County… and picking up a yellow card of his own.
“We review every game and discipline is important,” says the poacher attempting to turn gamekeeper. “We try and keep our penalty count as low as possible and that gives you the best chance of winning the game. The week before we only gave away two or three penalties against Scarlets, which shows that if you can keep your discipline it will have a massive bearing on the outcome.”