Something is stirring in Edinburgh Rugby. The capital club not only halted Glasgow’s run of ten successive victories in the Pro14 but did it the hard way, playing 75 of the 80 minutes with just 14 men.
It was a remarkable exhibition of heart and soul from a club that hasn’t always displayed those two qualities.
Glasgow took an early lead thanks to a lineout move that saw Edinburgh’s defence part like the Red Sea for Tommy Seymour to send Huw Jones over the line. Edinburgh’s response was immediate, with the forwards punching their way just inside the Glasgow 22 when Simon Berghan’s boot caught the side of Fraser Brown’s head.
The trio of match officials watched the replay on the big screen countless times before Berghan was shown red and at the next set scrum flanker Hamish Watson was sacrificed for reserve prop Matt Shields, who certainly hadn’t anticipated a 70-minute shift.
A mixture of hopeless incompetence from Glasgow and canny tactics by Edinburgh – players and coaches alike – earned a famous win in the first leg of what is now a three-match series for the 1872 Cup. Despite the one-man advantage Glasgow were unable to add to their early score until the 47th minute when Peter Horne kicked a scrum penalty and the visitors managed just one try against 14 men in 75 minutes of rugby.
Short-staffed almost from the off, Edinburgh played some smart rugby, keeping hold of the ball for long periods even if they weren’t making much of a dent in Glasgow’s defence. Both sides indulged in some aimless kicking when Glasgow especially might have been better served to hold onto the ball and probe for a weakness in the under-manned Edinburgh line.
Stuart McInally and Grant Gilchrist carried relentlessly, Viliame Mata tackled everything that moved, James Johnstone showed some neat touches and Blair Kinghorn threatened without ever quite delivering. South African stand-off Jaco van der Walt made a brilliant blindside break only spoilt by dropping the ball and fellow countryman Duhan van der Merwe did enough on the wing to suggest he will be a real asset.
Glasgow were totally lacklustre as if the mere fact of having an extra man on the field would win this game without the players having to break sweat. They made far too many unforced errors at crucial times. They lacked urgency and only in the set scrum did the visitors raise a head of steam and march Edinburgh backwards almost at will. Glasgow’s ten second-half points all came courtesy of their set scrum.
That dominance should have earned Glasgow a second try just before the break when they were awarded a string of five metre scrums after the ball was held up over the line twice. Instead the advancing Warriors scrum lost control of the ball and Mata pounced for a vital turnover.
With Dave Rennie’s half-time encouragement ringing in their ears the Warriors were a little improved after the break, exerting greater energy and aided by the appearance of Finn Russell from the bench. The fly-half kicked Glasgow to within five metres of the home line from a scrum penalty and Scott Cummings went right through the middle of the resulting maul to score.
Still Edinburgh refused to roll over and have their tummy tickled. The forwards, back to full strength with flanker Jamie Richie replacing winger Dougie Fife, muscled their way up to the Glasgow line and replacement scrum-half Nathan Fowles muscled his way over it just as the match entered the final quarter.
Glasgow continued to miss various open goals. They looked sure to score until Fife made a brilliant tackle on Huw Jones while another Jones, winger Lee, should have cottoned onto Russell’s cross-field kick late on. The missed chances were to prove costly.
Edinburgh earned two penalties which were kicked to the corners, first left then right, with a slew of home backs joining the lineout drive at the second time of asking.
With Glasgow’s own backs sucked into the melee, Chris Dean found himself completely unmarked and broke off the driving maul to score a simple try in the corner and signal the start of raucous celebrations amongst the Edinburgh faithful who are finally beginning to believe.