It is one of life’s mysteries that Alan Solomons proved incapable of nudging Edinburgh up the Pro12 ladder – the club finished eighth, eighth and ninth on his watch –but somehow lifted the 1872 Cup for the last two seasons. You can bet that Duncan Hodge will have studied exactly how the team he has inherited managed that feat, although whether it helps him any is a moot point, as we shall see.
There are two ways of stopping a “momentum team” like Glasgow, who like to play at pace and go through the gears as they go through the phases. The first tactic is to ignore the breakdown, let the opposition recycle possession because, by not committing players to the ruck, you ensure a fully-manned defensive line which should be tough to break down.
The other method is to attack the breakdown aggressively and slow Glasgow’s phase play which should ensure time to reorganise your own defence and maintain line speed, which will eventually frustrate Glasgow into kicking the ball away or pressure them into a mistake.
It was the latter tactic that Solomons chose to good effect last season but only because he had the right tools to do the job. John Hardie was the fall guy: the Kiwi flanker ploughed into the breakdown where he made a bloody nuisance of himself; and once Edinburgh nosed ahead the twin props WP Nel and Alasdair Dickinson, with the help of locks Ben Toolis and Anton Bresler, did the rest, turning the screw at the set scrum, driving the lineout and milking penalties.
In the opening game of last season’s double header, Glasgow conceded a combined total of 31 penalties and turnovers, almost twice as many as Edinburgh’s 18.
The sharp-eyed will have spotted the problem facing Hodge: he doesn’t have the architects of last season’s double at his disposal. You can argue that Grant Gilchrist is a handy stand-in for Bresler and say the same about Hamish Watson for Hardie but in the absence of Nel and with Dickinson only just returned to action after six months on the sidelines, Hodge cannot rely upon set-piece domination.
The issue of how to stop Glasgow from weaving their magic is further complicated by a ‘Warrior’ in the Edinburgh ranks. After six seasons at Glasgow, Duncan Weir must be pinching himself as he prepares to play against his former colleagues. If Hodge had all his weapons to hand Weir, for all his mixed emotions, would be the perfect playmaker to pepper the corners and play a territorial battle.
As things stand the Edinburgh coach will be scratching his head about whether to gamble with Jason Tovey, who remains the more creative of the two Edinburgh tens, even if he pushes the envelope a little too hard at times. I imagine Hodge will start Weir and bring the Welshman off the bench if needs be but there are good arguments both ways.
Meanwhile there are several fascinating head-to-heads that are worth monitoring. Stuart Hogg will be keen to put Blair Kinghorn in his place and Tommy Seymour will want to flex his muscles and do the same to another Edinburgh up-and-comer in the form of Damian Hoyland.
Meanwhile at the sharp end Ross Ford goes against his Test rival Fraser Brown and Allan Dell goes head-to-head in a literal sense with his sometime Scotland colleague Zander Fagerson and, whatever else happens a week tomorrow, both of them cannot boss the set-piece battle.
Glasgow will rightly start as favourites but they were the form side last season and little good it did them.