The annual resumption of the inter-city rivalry between Edinburgh and Glasgow always stirs memories of the old Reds v Blues trial match and there will be a number of intriguing battles with the start of the Six Nations just over a month away.
One of the more interesting is in the key position of scrum-half, where a player who would not long ago have been viewed as an unlikely holder of Scotland No 9 jersey is up against the man who a couple of years ago was being viewed as Greig Laidlaw’s heir apparent.
The former is Glasgow’s Ali Price, who has seized on Laidlaw’s injuries and Lions involvement to become a Test regular this year and the latter is Edinburgh’s Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, who has not played for Scotland since the 2016 Six Nations.
Hidalgo-Clyne’s drift out of the international reckoning was emphasised when Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend selected clubmate Nathan Fowles ahead of him for his autumn Test squad.
Hidalgo-Clyne has the opportunity tomorrow to go head to head with fellow 24-year-old Price, who has swept past the Edinburgh man’s caps total in quick time and put himself in the position of being a good bet to retain the Scotland jersey when the Six Nations opens in Cardiff at the start of February.
“There will be a good battle between Sam [Hidalgo-Clyne] and Ali, so I’m looking forward to that,” said Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill yesterday after naming his team, with Fowles on the bench. After bursting on to the Scotland scene as Laidlaw’s understudy in the 2015 Six Nations and being selected for the World Cup squad, Hidalgo-Clyne has found himself in a three-way battle for his Edinburgh spot with Fowles and Sean Kennedy. Some impressive performances this season seem to have nudged him back in front.
Cockerill added: “I think he has applied himself really well and has been sharp when he’s played. For this game Sam is the right person to start.
“Nathan Fowles has been in good form as well but they are a bit different. Sam is very aggressive in defence and he is sharp around the fringes. We need his service to be as good as it can be. He has just swayed selection on form at the moment but it is very tight.
“Sam has a huge amount of natural ability. He is a very competitive player and I want him to be very competitive with Ali Price on Saturday night. It’s a big game for Sam because he wants to push himself into the international reckoning. He has a shop window to show how good he is.”
It had been hoped Scotland centre Mark Bennettwould make his Edinburgh debut against his former club after a ten-month knee injury ley-off but the game has come too soon, admitted the coach.
“We put him into consideration for selection, but Mark’s not played any rugby in 10 months, so I think the right thing for us and for him at this point is for him not to start, not to be involved,” explained Cockerill. “I don’t think he’s ready, because he hasn’t played, simple as that. I’ve got no problems around him as a player or as a person, it’s just a game that came too soon.”
Asked if he could be in contention for the second match next weekend, Cockerill said: “I will see. Let’s see what Saturday brings. If the lads perform and do well, then it’s unlikely. If it’s a disaster, then we’ll see what happens.”
Cockerill was unfazed by Glasgow’s decision to start Peter Horne ahead of Finn Russell at stand-off.
“Look, he [Russell] is a very, very good player, but so’s Peter Horne,” said Cockerill. “They’re both Test 10s. Obviously Finn’s leaving at the end of the year, so [Glasgow coach] Dave [Rennie] will pick who he wants to pick. But they’re a good side across the board: I’ve got no doubts around that. They’ve got a few injuries in that back five, we’ve got a few injuries in the front row. Consistently they’ve been a better side than us for the last five or six years.”
Looking at the make up of the Scotland squad, some may categorise this as a battle between Edinburgh’s forwards and Glasgow’s backs. Cockerill is wary of the Warriors’ threat out wide but hopes the more expansive style he has been pioneering in the capital can be showcased.
“We’ve got to make sure our first-up tackles are very good. Our defence with Calum MacRae has been very good this year,” said Cockerill. “We’ve got to be very physical on the gain line, and we’ve got to stop them playing with momentum. We want to play ball in hand as well. It’s not just them who will be a threat ball in hand. We’ve got some good players – we’ve got a very good ball-carrying forward pack. We’ve certainly got some threat in that back line.”