Blair has experienced this derby as a player with Edinburgh and an assistant coach with Glasgow so is well versed in the intricacies of an occasion which can sometimes boil over.
Danny Wilson, the Warriors chief, got the better of Blair’s predecessor Richard Cockerill, winning four of the six derbies that were played from August 2020 to May 2021 as Covid led to an increase in localised fixtures.
Festive bonhomie is usually left at the door when these sides meet and both coaches know that winning the physical battle is key to gaining the upper hand.
Where the game will be won and lost
The two teams have rightly won plaudits for their attacking rugby this season but they also showed their harder edge in the lead up to this derby during eye-catching European victories. Edinburgh’s away win at Saracens and Glasgow’s defeat of Exeter Chiefs at Scotstoun were achieved with robust, courageous performances in which the Scottish sides outfought and outthought more illustrious opponents.
Jim Hamilton, the former Scotland lock who will cover the game for Premier Sports, spoke last week about getting the fundamentals right: scrum, lineout drive, defence and kicking game. Wilson agreed and also stressed the need to come out on top at the breakdown.
“The first thing is physicality,” said the Glasgow coach. “In these big games you have to win the physical battle, and that’s the gainline battle both sides of the ball.
“In attack we need to carry, we need to go forward, and our breakdown needs to be extremely quick for us to be able to play the way we want to. And likewise in defence: we need to win collisions on the gainline, which I thought we did brilliantly against Exeter.
“Against a massive team, our work on the breakdown in defence was at a top level – and it will have to be again in the derby.
“Some derbies can be scrappy and messy – the last couple have been really exciting games of rugby, I think, and you’ve seen plenty of tries. The way they’re playing at the moment and the way we’ve always played, really, is a match-up for quite an exciting game of rugby. We’ll see.
“So there’s the first port of call for both teams. You’ll also see an interesting set-piece battle, because the teams and individuals know each other well.”
With the Six Nations just around the corner, the 1872 Cup games offer some mouthwatering positional match-ups, none more so than at openside flanker where Glasgow’s young pretender Rory Darge takes on last year’s player of the championship, Hamish Watson.
Darge has been a revelation since moving from Edinburgh last spring and Wilson is intrigued to see how he fares against his former team-mate.
“I think he knows that there’s a big challenge ahead of him now he’s going head to head with an outstanding No 7 in Hamish Watson,” said the Glasgow coach. “For him to play against not only Edinburgh but against Hamish makes for quite a clash, and I think it will be a great battle – a young man coming through versus a very experienced international. It makes for another sub-plot in what already has plenty head-to-heads.”
Scrum-half offers another fascinating duel. Edinburgh’s team selection has been shaped largely by who is available, with Covid and injuries limiting Blair’s options, but the decision to pick Henry Pyrgos ahead of Ben Vellacott as starting nine appears tactical.
Vellacott has been outstanding since moving to the capital in the summer and his pace would trouble any side but the experienced Pyrgos is adept at game management and it’s a measure of the esteem in which he is held by Blair that he is named as skipper against Glasgow ahead of regular co-captain Stuart McInally.
“Henry has done really well the last couple of games off the bench,” said Blair, who is likely to utilise Vellacott during the second half. “It is in line with what I’ve done with other positions in that I want to breed competition and give players opportunities as well.
“I also thought Ben did a great job off the bench against Zebre, adding some pace to the game, so it is just a bit of balance with what we’re trying to do. I think they’ve both got real strengths to their game and hopefully this way round we’ll see the best of both of them.”
Different gravy: why the 1872 Cup is special
While the Covid disruptions of 2020-21 and the decision to extend the season with the Rainbow Cup led to a proliferation of derbies – six Edinburgh-Glasgow games in nine months – the current campaign has seen the 1872 Cup revert to a two-game aggregate format. It’s a decision that restores its immediacy and gives it back its place as a competition settled over the festive period.
Scotstoun would have been a sell-out and Edinburgh were expecting a crowd of around 30,000 for the second leg on January 2. Unfortunately, both games will be played in all but empty stadiums after the Scottish Government imposed restrictions of 500 on all outdoor sporting events.
The local dust-up isn’t always viewed fondly – ex-Edinburgh boss Cockerill used to refer to the trophy as the “gravy bowl”, Darcy Graham revealed last week – but there’s no denying its popularity with the supporters. It’s just a shame none will be there to see it.