After a pretty dire and tepid first half, it seemed like another underwhelming Scotstoun experience was on the cards. There’s been a few of those lately, often blighted by bad weather, to be fair.
It has been a big selling point in recent years that, almost without fail, when you pitch up in the west of Glasgow, the least you can expect is an entertaining feast of free-flowing rugby.
The Warriors have been the great success story for Scottish rugby in the professional era but are undoubtedly in a period of transition at the moment. The stardust of Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg is gone and coach Dave Rennie is on his way at the end of the season. A rousing finish on Saturday hinted that there is still life in a team who, just a few months ago, were in yet another final of the Guinness Pro14 competition at Celtic Park.
The World Cup, as the Six Nations also does, presents challenges to a club that provides so much to the national cause but, after an average showing in both the Pro14 and Europe so far, the old Scotstoun roar was back as Glasgow edged an exciting finish to what had been a stop-start affair dominated by penalties and a remarkable five yellow cards shown.
The response from the home support was noted afterwards by Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill, right, who had to be content with a losing bonus point.
“We’ve come a long way from two-and-a-half years ago. From the reaction of the crowd and their team, this was like a cup final for them. We’re heading in the right direction,” said the Englishman.
In the build-up, Cockerill had dismissed as “bollocks” any suggestion that his side were favourites for this first of three shots at retaining the 1872 Cup. It would be slight favourites, of course, but there was a feeling that the men from the capital were in the better shape heading into the annual opening of inter-city festive hostilities.
The match never really got going for either side, however, as referee Ben Blain took centre stage, quick to the whistle and the pocket throughout a first half which ended 6-6 as Adam Hastings and Simon Hickey traded a couple of penalties apiece.
For 31-year-old Cumbrian Blain, who has come through the SRU system, it was the biggest match of his fledgling career after just half-a-dozen times in the middle for a Pro14 match.
There were some lengthy chats with the TMO as well as his sin-binnings of Ruaridh Jackson, Bill Mata, Stuart McInally, George Turner and Nic Groom.
There was no stinging criticism from Cockerill for a referee clearly learning his way, but the coach added: “There were a lot of yellow cards, a lot of penalties. We got the wrong end of the yellow-card count, so it was frustrating.”
The more experienced SRU referee Mike Adamson will be in charge this Saturday afternoon.
To the victors the (halfway there) spoils, however, and Rennie’s side got over the line in the end when Turner finished off a late driving maul.
Home scrum-half Ali Price had broken the try deadlock in the 64th minute, seconds after he had replaced George Horne, when he finished off a sparkling move. Hastings’ chip through was sublime and centre Huw Jones, starting to look back to his old self, cut through and put Price in under the posts.
Edinburgh were not broken, though, and hit back with a fine score themselves, which was finished off in the left corner by a brilliant step inside from full-back Blair Kinghorn before Turner had the final word.
“I’m sure they [Edinburgh] will be [fired-up for Saturday’s re-match],” said Rennie, pictured inset.
“I’m sure they had plenty of fire in them coming here and it will be the same next week. I guess we are under a bit of pressure in our conference. I had that in mind and it has created an edge.”
For all the bragging rights and parochial fervour these matches bring, Rennie’s point is a reminder that crucial Pro14 points are also at stake in these games. The four for Glasgow, not to mention the one consolation for Edinburgh, could prove important for both at the end of this regular season which, starting late due to the World Cup, sees the play-offs and final extend into June.
“I thought we prepared really well,” continued the Glasgow coach. “We were aware of what was coming and I thought we dealt with it pretty well.”
With the Six Nations looming, there are national protocols on how many consecutive games the Test stars can play, but Rennie expects to have a full complement to pick from at the weekend.
“We are going to have to rest some guys in the next couple of weeks. If it’s not Edinburgh it’s Treviso [on 4 January],” he said. “We rested a number of guys against Leinster and a few of those guys have now played three games so potentially they could play next week.”
Cockerill added: “We were in it to the death but weren’t quite good enough to get over the line to win. We’ll take the point.”