Rugby’s back and Darcy Graham can’t wait for Edinburgh v Glasgow

Five fallow months are almost over for Scotland’s pro teams

Edinburgh's Darcy Graham. Picture: Ross Parker / SNS

Five fallow months are almost over, and Scotland’s two professional rugby teams are ready to resume their rivalry. But when Edinburgh and Glasgow meet behind closed doors at BT Murrayfield on Saturday, then again the following Friday, there will be a considerable contrast between their outlooks.

For the Warriors, this will of course be a new beginning under head coach Danny Wilson, yet it is also likely to be the briefest of codas to the current, truncated season. To break into the top two in Pro14 Conference A and qualify for the semi-finals, they need to win both derbies with bonus points, and rely on Ulster losing both of their games, against Connacht then Leinster, without picking up a single point.

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Stranger things have happened, of course, but the way in which the tournament organisers have opted to wrap up the campaign has certainly done Glasgow no favours. Wilson would have faced an uphill battle to reach the play-offs even if all 21 regular-season games had been played: cutting it short at 15 has left the new coach facing an implausibly vertical ascent.

New Glasgow assistant coach Jonny Bell. Picture: Alan Harvey / SNS

Edinburgh, conversely, have the simplest of strolls into the last four. One point from their two games is all the Conference A leaders need – and that is presuming that third-placed Scarlets pick up maximum points from their matches against Cardiff and Dragons.

However, the real aim for Richard Cockerill’s team is to preserve their lead over second-placed Munster and ensure a home semi-final. Two points clear at present, with one win more than the Irish province, they will do that with two victories of any description against Glasgow. And whatever happens in the Pro14, Edinburgh have a European Challenge Cup quarter-final to look forward to, against Bordeaux-Begles in mid-September.

Such, at least, is the background to the forthcoming 1872 Cup double-header. It goes without saying, though, that the minute hostilities resume on Saturday, both sides will put those considerations aside and concern themselves solely with the matter in hand.

“We’re focusing everything on Glasgow,” explained Edinburgh winger Darcy Graham, who missed the last two months pre-lockdown with a knee injury but is now fully fit. “We’re not into the semi-finals yet: we need to perform and turn up on the day.

“Glasgow are a really good team. They’re solid, strong and they’ve got great attacking threats. We need to be defensively sorted and be ready for them. Our big focus is to win these next two games, which would set us up nicely for a semi-final. There’s a lot of games coming up – 27 games in 28 weeks or something. It’s going to be a huge season, pretty much straight through for 11 months. This first Glasgow game is a must-win, do-or-die, so it’s putting a bit of pressure on us. We know we’ve got to go out and perform. It’s then about backing it up week on week.”

Having failed to qualify for the Champions Cup knock-out stages, Glasgow will have no other games until the new season starts at the beginning of October unless they pull off a near-miracle and overhaul Ulster. All the more reason, then, for them to throw everything they have into the two Edinburgh matches.

“First and foremost, the boys haven’t played rugby in a number of months and they’re desperate to get back on to the pitch,” said attack coach Jonny Bell, recruited to Wilson’s coaching team after five years with Gloucester as defence coach. “That’s their job: that’s what they do and what they love doing.

“So I think the fact that Edinburgh are going for that semi is in many respects irrelevant to us. They’re a good side and we know we’ve got a big job, but we’re putting Glasgow shirts on and for the first time in a long time we’re getting back in as a group.

“We’re desperate to just go out and make sure we perform. We’ve got a new coaching group in, we’re in with this group of players that we’re trying to keep moving forward, so we’re completely and utterly focused on ourselves and it’s about us delivering our best performance.”

Glasgow won the first derby of the season, at Scotstoun four days before Christmas, but lost the Murrayfield return a week later. For all that the visiting squad know the national stadium well, home advantage has traditionally been a big factor in this fixture – yet the evidence from other matches played behind closed doors is that the lack of a crowd has a levelling effect. (The Warriors are officially the home team for the second game, incidentally – will that have a psychological effect?)

Take away that factor, take away any sort of momentum, add in the inevitable rustiness after so long out of the game, and you have a formula on Saturday for one of the most unpredictable meetings in the history of the fixture.

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