If the 1872 Cup has too often been a local skirmish contested by teams with little else to play for, this season promises more. Both sides go into the double-header on the back of outstanding European results and impressive performances in the United Rugby Championship.
Jim Hamilton thinks the Scottish teams have been “phenomenal” but is careful to note the distinction between winning games and winning titles. While impressed by the work done by Mike Blair and Danny Wilson he knows both coaches need to overcome the URC’s Irish heavyweights to be considered genuine contenders.
But that’s for later in the season. For now, it’s about domestic bragging rights and who can best build on the recent Euro matches which saw Edinburgh beat Saracens and Glasgow overcome Exeter.
Coaching philosophies key to progress
Hamilton, who will be part of the Premier Sports team covering the match at Scotstoun on Monday and the return in Edinburgh on January 2, believes the coaches deserve credit for altering their teams’ traditional philosophies, with Blair unlocking Edinburgh’s attacking potential and Wilson adding a harder edge to Glasgow’s pack.
“The two wins in Europe underlines where the two teams are,” said the former Edinburgh and Scotland lock. “Without getting too carried away both teams have been phenomenal this season, they really have.
“We thought Mike Blair may change the profile of the team but how quickly they have adapted to his ways. With Glasgow you wondered if they were going to come good. There was a question mark over Danny Wilson, of course there was, because of the last year and the turnover they have had, but that game against Ulster was kind of the precursor to what we have seen for the rest of the season in terms of the physicality, the appetite and the ability to go out wide.”
New signings make big impression
Recruitment has been key. The addition of Argentines Emiliano Boffelli and Ramiro Moyano has souped up the Edinburgh attack while no player in Scottish rugby this season has had a bigger impact than Glasgow No 8 Jack Dempsey.
Hamilton likes what he’s seen of Dempsey and fellow Warriors new boy Josh McKay and has also been impressed with the way Boffelli has hit the ground running at Edinburgh after playing for Argentina in the autumn.
“Boffelli played against Ireland, rocks up to Edinburgh, freezing cold, how interested was he going to be? His first-touch score against the Dragons - he had been in Edinburgh just for a few days - shows his appetite.
“Edinburgh have a player in his prime in Boffelli and he has the skills set to play across the back three. He is a world class player.
“At Glasgow, Dempsey has been fantastic, what a signing, and Mackay as well. Players that have slotted in naturally. When you recruit it is about more than them just being a good player. They have to fit into the culture, the system and during Covid as well when it is has been more difficult in terms of integration.”
Rory Darge v Hamish Watson is a contest to relish
Dempsey’s impact at No 8 combined with the rise of Rory Darge has turned Glasgow’s back row into a formidable unit and Hamilton is of the opinion that Darge is playing so well that he could soon be pushing Hamish Watson for a place in the national team.
“It isn’t the case that certain players are a shoo-in, no matter what position you look at,” said Hamilton.
“Rory Darge: is he going to come through? Is Hamish Watson going to play in the derby? Because I think Darge is knocking on the door massively now.”
The Darge v Watson duel is a fascinating sub-plot to Monday’s game and both will be determined to disrupt their opponents’ flow.
Edinburgh throw off the shackles
Edinburgh have rightly been lauded for their commitment to attacking rugby under Blair but Hamilton credits his predecessor for toughening up the squad.
“Richard Cockerill did a lot to instil a hard-nosed old-school approach, in terms of their defence, the kicking game, the dark arts of the scrum and the lineout drive.
“And the weird thing is that the lineout has faltered this season for Edinburgh, for all the good of everything else. So there are work-ons in that team.
“In terms of aesthetically watching Edinburgh, they look like a different team. I think Blair Kinghorn has been phenomenal at 10, Ben Vellacott has added a completely different dimension, Darcy Graham is fit . . . But we know, especially the old-school people, that a game isn’t won that way - it’s won around the scrum and the lineout drive, defence and the kicking game.
“The fact that they beat Saracens shows they’ve got the ability to do that. But there’s winning games and then there’s winning titles, and to win the title everything needs to be joined up. This game against Glasgow is going to be phenomenal.
“We’ll get a gauge from that, and from when Edinburgh play Leinster and Munster, as to where they are in the set piece. They can’t get away from that if they want to win something this season. They can play this great-looking rugby, but as we know, January, February and March in the UK and Ireland are pretty bleak.
“So the tougher months are to come. But I think we can all agree, the rugby that they’re playing, the shackles are off. Whether or not Richard Cockerill was holding them back and the confidence element of the team, I don’t know.”
Jim Hamilton is part of the Premier Sports team bringing full live coverage of all four games involving Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh throughout the festive season in the United Rugby Championship. The opening 1872 Cup fixture is on Premier Sports 1 from 6pm on December 27 with the return leg on January 2 on the same channel from 1pm. Find out more at www.premiersports.com