The No 8 suffered a bloodied head as early as the first minute but was unbowed as he scored a first-half try to help Glasgow Warriors to a gritty 16-10 win over their nearest and dearest.
Edinburgh tried valiantly to find a way back and Connor Boyle’s second half try gave them hope, but it was quickly snuffed out as Glasgow came galloping home and Tom Jordan landed two late penalties to stretch their lead. A late counter from Jaco van der Walt secured a losing bonus for the visitors.
This season's overall victors will not be decided until next Friday's second leg at BT Murrayfield but Glasgow are in the box seat to reclaim the 1872 Cup after a towsy win in front of a sell-out crowd of 7,338.
The Warriors were rewarded for a physical and disciplined performance and were worth their win. It was Franco Smith’s side’s fourth victory in a row.
There were late changes for both teams. Glasgow replacement prop Nathan McBeth was forced to withdraw due to illness, necessitating a front-row reshuffle which saw Murphy Walker being replaced by Lucio Sordoni as starting tighthead. Walker went to the bench because of his ability to also provide cover at loosehead.
Edinburgh wing Wes Goosen was also a late call-off, due to a calf injury. Emiliano Boffelli moved to the wing to take his place, with academy player Harry Paterson coming into the side at full-back.
Both sides had come to play and the game began in full-blooded fashion. Dempsey needed treatment for a cut above his eye but was soon back involved.
Edinburgh won a couple of early penalties and elected to have a pot at goal on both occasions, something of a departure from their normal tactic of kicking to the corner in search of a try. What was even more surprising was that the usually impeccable Boffelli missed both from around 40 metres. The first drifted just wide and the second stuck the post as the game moved into its second quarter still pointless.
Glasgow, by contrast, went for the corner when they won a kickable penalty in the 24th minute. They were rewarded for their ambition, but they had to be patient. Edinburgh held firm initially but Glasgow were content to bide their time. They built the phases until eventually Dempsey burst through the defensive line, with Chris Dean and James Lang unable to halt the Warriors No 8. Horne’s conversion made it 7-0 to the home side with 10 minutes remaining of the first half.
Dean has an impressive history in this fixture but his night ended early when he came off second best trying to tackle Tuipulotu. Cammy Scott, another Edinburgh academy player, replaced him, making his second appearance for the club.
Glasgow stretched their lead just before the break, Horne chipping over a penalty from close range after Jamie Ritchie had been pulled up for an infringement at the tackle.
Duhan van der Merwe had hardly touched the ball in the first half but was quickly involved after the interval with a searing run down the left wing. Josh McKay did well to stop him but the Edinburgh winger had another nibble before Pierre Schoeman knocked the ball on.
It was a more encouraging passage of play from Edinburgh who had been second best in the first 40, but it was also a missed opportunity in a game of few chances.
It was a baptism of fire for Edinburgh’s two young backs but Paterson was looking solid enough in the 15 jersey until he fumbled McKay’s kick into touch. Fortunately for the full-back, Glasgow were unable to take advantage.
There was little and both sides refreshed their packs around the 51-minute mark, with George Turner, Simon Berghan and Lewis Bean replacing Fraser Brown, Sordoni and Sintu Manjezi for Glasgow, and Boan Venter and Marshall Sykes coming on for Pierre Schoeman and Glen Young for Edinburgh, who also substituted scrum-half Henry Pyrgos on for Ben Vellacott.
The visitors were gaining more of a foothold and when they kicked a penalty to the corner they reaped the benefits after 57 minutes. Sykes won the lineout then helped drive Boyle over the line, silencing the home crowd. Boffelli landed the conversion to reduce Glasgow’s lead to three points as the game entered its final quarter.
Glasgow came roaring back as the momentum swung back their way. They pushed and pushed and won a scrum five metres from the Edinburgh line after Ritchie knocked the ball away. The home fans were in a ferment and the noise levels were raised further when the Warriors won a scrum penalty. They erred on the side of caution this time, taking the easy three points through Jordan to increase their lead to 13-7. The stand-off had taken on kicking duties after Horne had been replaced by Ali Price.
Edinburgh were still within a score of their opponents but they couldn’t get out of their own 22 as Glasgow cranked up the pressure. A monster tackle by Du Preez on Muncaster resulted in another penalty to the Warriors and Jordan despatched it to make it 16-7.
Edinburgh’s woes were compounded when Boffelli limped off. He was replaced by Jaco van der Walt who then landed a monster penalty from halfway to bring Blair’s side back to within six points. Edinburgh didn’t have enough time to do any more but they at least gained a losing bonus point and reduced Glasgow’s lead ahead of next Friday’s second leg at Murrayfield.
Scorers: Glasgow Warriors: Try: Dempsey. Con: Horne. Pens: Horne, Jordan 2.
Edinburgh: Try: Boyle. Con: Boffelli. Pen: van der Walt.
Glasgow Warriors: J McKay; S Cancelliere, S Tuipulotu, S McDowall, K Steyn; T Jordan, G Horne (A Price 61); J Bhatti, F Brown (G Turner 51), L Sordoni (S Berghan 51), S Manjezi (L Bean 51), R Gray (JP du Preez 63), M Fagerson, S Vailanu, J Dempsey (C Neild 61).
Replacements not used: M Walker, D Miotti.
Edinburgh: H Paterson; E Boffelli (J van der Walt 75), J Lang, C Dean (C Scott 38), D van der Merwe; C Savala, B Vellacott (H Pyrgos 53); P Schoeman (B Venter 51), T Cruse (P Harrison 67), WP Nel (A Williams 61), G Young (M Sykes 51), G Gilchrist, J Ritchie, C Boyle, V Mata (B Muncaster 61).
Referee: Ben Blain (SRU)