Glasgow Warriors may be losing their star player to Racing 92 in the summer but, since Finn Russell announced his decision, the club has been quick to put the money saved to the best possible use.
The bear that is Jonny Gray put his paw print to a new deal midweek and yesterday it was the turn of Fraser Brown to extend his stay at Scotstoun. The international hooker is now nailed down until 2020 and he didn’t need his arm twisted.
“I wanted to stay here. I’m very happy with the rugby and it’s been really good working with the new coaching set-up at the start of the year,” said Brown. “Jen, my fiancée, and I talked at the beginning of the year about how we wanted to stay here and it’s just about getting things right to make that possible.
“I’d love to be getting paid what Finn’s getting paid! It’s different situations. Finn wants to go and challenge himself somewhere else in France, which is brilliant for him, but I don’t think you could find many people here who don’t want to go and challenge themselves somewhere else at some point in their career. For me, where I am just now, I wanted to stay in Glasgow.” Now that his contract is settled Brown can concentrate on the matter in hand. Civil wars are always the most ruthless and it will be interesting to see if Glasgow abandon their high-tempo, running game and instead exploit the one area where they have an obvious advantage on the field, Brown’s area of expertise.
The hooker is flanked by Zander Fagerson and Jamie Bhatti, the find of the season and that rare beast, a genuinely destructive scrummaging prop. He will give Edinburgh’s Simon Berghan plenty to think about this evening. And Edinburgh’s loosehead, Rory Sutherland, is desperately short of game time.
Perhaps more important is the subs’ bench because, while Edinburgh boss Richard Cockerill can call upon the inexperienced duo of Matt Shields, recently signed from Championship side Rotherham, and Murray McCallum, Dave Rennie is able to whistle up two Super Rugby giants in the form of Tongan international and one time Highlander Siua Halanukonuka and the former Stormer Oli Kebble, either of whom could have started this match and who may do in next weekend’s return fixture.
Glasgow Warriors are rightly famed for moving the ball about like an end-of-season Barbarians side but their high-tempo game has a host of moving parts which invite mistakes. If the scoreboard is tight in the final quarter, Rennie’s men will be sorely tempted to abandon the fancy stuff and instead milk whatever they can get at the set scrum.
In the absence of a national trial, these back-to-back derbies are the next best thing and there are a host of fascinating head-to-heads. Scott Cummings gets to gauge his progress against Ben Toolis and Grant Gilchrist. Alex Dunbar will attempt to place new cap and rival Phil Burleigh back in his box. Ruaridh Jackson and Blair Kinghorn may be fighting over Scotland’s 15 depending upon Stuart Hogg’s fitness and, of course, the twin hookers are best of “frenemies” for the afternoon.
One year ago, Brown was seen as the heir apparent as Scotland’s No 1 hooker but since then he has witnessed Stuart McInally come of age. The Edinburgh man known as “Rambo” was outstanding in the autumn Tests but a good performance this afternoon will give a timely boost to Brown’s reputation just weeks before the start of the Six Nations.
“It’ll be fun,” he says without much conviction. “I thought Stuart played really well in the autumn and the internationals. It was disappointing for me because I started the season injured with an ankle injury, but I was on a slow road to recovery to injury for the first couple of games heading into Exeter, but then I obviously picked up another knock which I wasn’t really expecting but I think Stuart grasped his chance with both hands.
“I thought the whole 36 guys who were involved in that squad did magnificently. When I went back into camp for the last couple of weeks the atmosphere around camp and the tempo and style of play they were trying to execute was brilliant.
“Stuart benefited from that because when you’re in a good environment and everyone’s playing well around you and you’re all pulling towards one common cause it’s really easy for you to pull out performances.
“So the next games are going to be really good as a head-to-head. I always think it’s really dangerous when people come into these two games and say ‘it’s selection on the line’ because they forgetting that there are another 28 games in the season, but it’s a good challenge and it’ll be good to see where I am in terms of coming back from fitness. I’m sure Stuart will want to see where he’s at.”
So too, you fancy, will Gregor Townsend.