IT’S safe to say that Monday morning this week felt a lot better than the previous two, following a hard-earned victory over Munster at the weekend.
The players have worked really hard over the past few weeks and it was really satisfying to see them get the rewards for yet again putting in a huge effort into the game.
At times in the second half against Munster the level of performance and the atmosphere generated by the crowd at Scotstoun was just like the Pro12 semi-final against the same opponents back in May. An atmosphere like that just makes such a huge difference to the players at key times when they really need to dig deep.
Although we ultimately came through what was a huge test and, in doing so, overturned a nine point deficit to claim victory against a Munster side who had been unbeaten away from home in the Guinness Pro12, we’re aware that there is still a lot of room for improvement and we can’t allow any team to build a substantial lead like Munster were able to do last Saturday, while we must look to continue to improve how we look after the ball when it’s in our possession.
But now we face a different challenge over the next couple of weeks, in what is undoubtedly the most anticipated two games of our season, for both our players and our supporters: that is, of course, the 1872 Cup series against Edinburgh Rugby.
You can tell that our supporters enjoy these games as our match at Scotstoun has been sold out for a few weeks now and I’m sure there will be a lot of noise generated by the crowd on Saturday afternoon.
Many, many years ago when I was a player, I used to be envious of the 1872 Cup, as being from the Borders we didn’t have a similar competitive match with so much history.
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It’s one of the reasons why this game is so special, because it’s the oldest competitive club match in the world against Glasgow’s biggest and nearest rivals.
It’s also amazing what the opportunity to play for a trophy can do to the powers of motivation and desire for everyone at the club in a fixture steeped in such rich folklore and which has occupied such a special and unique place in Scottish rugby’s history.
Just like last season, Edinburgh come into this game in good form, having won four out of the last five games and they’ve also won away from home at Munster and at Bordeaux this season, which shows that they will pose a real threat this weekend.
They will certainly be full of confidence, having demolished Treviso 48-0 last weekend, scoring six tries into the bargain at BT Murrayfield and there is no doubt they have many quality players throughout their squad who are performing at the top of their games.
Edinburgh are also very well organised in defence, physical in contact and know their game plan and their roles within it very well.
1872 Cup coverage
Our last encounter ended up being a high-scoring affair, with us winning narrowly back in April, which illustrated the rugby ability of their players as they scored a couple of excellent tries that day.
Preparation for this game has been as normal as possible, which can be a challenge given we have Christmas Day two days before the match, but our players are used to looking after themselves and preparing very well over the Christmas period, and they have worked hard again this week.
They are to be commended for the professionalism and they also realise the importance of the game, not only for the club but for them as individuals.
This is particularly the case for our Scottish-qualified players, many of whom will be in direct competition with their rivals from the east for a place in the Test side for the RBS Six Nations next year.
In fact I would say preparations for the Edinburgh match are even more thorough than normal, with a lot of player input into the opposition analysis.
A lot of our players know the Edinburgh squad better than we do as coaches and it’s been illuminating finding out from them the strengths and weaknesses of their opposite numbers.
Preparation is definitely important, but from my recent experience it’s the team which handles their emotions better and plays disciplined and accurate rugby that will prevail.
It’s likely to be a heated encounter, but I’m sure we will also see some great rugby on display over the next couple of games.
I want to take this opportunity to wish everybody a Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2015.
And finally, my thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been affected by the terrible accident which occurred in George Square in Glasgow this week.
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