When the Edinburgh coaches put their heads together to anticipate the dangers posed by the Glasgow squad ahead of the 1872 Cup clash on Boxing Day one name that will almost certainly have slipped their mind was that of Adam Ashe.
They could be forgiven because the Glasgow No 8 has been sidelined the entire season; he last laced his boots in anger for last May’s Pro12 semi-final against Connacht, unless you count 40 minutes in a losing cause last weekend for Ayr in the BT Premiership.
The former Scotland eight freely admits to being a tad undercooked and equally apprehensive ahead of what is traditionally the most bruising match of the campaign with precious little by way of season goodwill, at least for the duration of the derby.
“I’ve been training with the team for three or four weeks now,” says Ashe. “It’s been quite a long time building up the contact level and it was good to come back into such a big game as this, to go right back into the deep end.
“If I have to go on after five minutes I’ll just deal with it, get on with it and I know the body will hold up. I’ve done a lot of training, more contact stuff that was challenging, at the weekend there for Ayr it was just more building up, feeling what it was like getting hit and stuff like that. It takes a few games to get back to the level you want to be at.
“Last year it was very physical. Everyone ramps up their game, people want to impress because it’s right before the Six Nations, and the majority of players selected for Scotland come from these two teams. Yes, it was physical last year and we’re ready for it again this year.”
Although he is just 23 years old Ashe sometimes sounds like an old stager and he suffered a pensioner’s injury, his hip, which must be a little worrying despite signing a two-year contract extension earlier this week. The ball wasn’t perfectly rounded so every time he extended the joint it nibbled away at the socket until, as he puts it, “just sitting down became pretty hard”. He had surgery in September and his return to the melee this side of the new year is ahead of schedule.
Coming from a player who had made such a splash on his arrival in the pro game, his time on the sidelines must have been tough to take not least because other breakaways have used his absence to press their claims, most notably Edinburgh rival Magnus Bradbury, pictured, who is almost exactly the same size and shape as the Glasgow man and shares his explosive carrying power off the base of the scrum.
In truth Ashe’s fall from grace took place long before his recent operation. He was simply not selected when Glasgow won the Pro12 final against Munster on that famous night in Belfast and the breakaway missed out on Vern Cotter’s Scotland squad for last year’s World Cup, his appearance against Italy in a warm-up game was his last cap. Perhaps his injury was already biting because at his best Ashe looked like Scotland’s answer to Billy Vunapola, a four square ball carrier with Fred Astaire feet and a canny understanding of the game. With David Denton still recovering from a hamstring tear that occurred the same month that Ashe went under the knife, the younger man may yet seize his opportunity.
The breakaway is obviously keen to make up for lost time on the international front but his immediate concerns lie closer to home...how to prevent Edinburgh from winning their fourth inter-city derby on the bounce and how to elevate Glasgow Warriors from their lowly position of sixth in the league?
“I just want to get back playing some good rugby here and enjoying it, the rest will take care of itself, the performances” replied Ashe when asked about his Scotland ambitions. “Hopefully I can get a good block of games here and just get a consistent run at things but it’s a contact sport and you have to be prepared.
“We always want to win, we enjoy playing together and we want to win. It’s a massive game to come back in but I’ve already got that enjoyment factor back, being excited about being out on the pitch. There’s a lot at stake here so we all hope we can get the result.
“There’s always new guys coming through,” is his response to Bradbury’s emergence, “and it seems to be happening more quickly now, the older I get. That’s just what happens and something you have to get used to if you want to be in this career. All I can do is focus on myself and do as well as I can.”