How they finish will – if I’ve got it right – determine which club plays in next season’s Heineken Champions Cup and which in the lower tier Challenge Cups. Ambition says you want to be in the former, but common sense might suggest you’ll have more chance of success in the latter. Scotland may still occupy a respectable position in the World rankings, but Glasgow and Edinburgh would find themselves in a humbler spot in any ranking of European clubs, even though we may take a somewhat sour pleasure from the thought that the professional club game in Wales is in even deeper trouble.
For tonight’s match neither Edinburgh nor Glasgow is at full strength, whatever you might judge that to be. Two of each club’s best back-row will be missing, Rory Darge and Matt Fagerson from Glasgow’s, Jamie Ritchie and Bill Mata from Edinburgh’s. The replacements of course are pretty good, though it is somewhat disappointing that Magnus Bradbury, in good enough form for Edinburgh this season, should be leaving to join Bristol Bears in the autumn. Of course we are always told that one player’s departure is an opportunity for another, but you can’t help thinking that Edinburgh would be stronger next season if Bradbury was still there.
The decision to move tonight’s match from Edinburgh’s mini-Murrayfield where they have flourished this season to the national stadium is no doubt financially justified. There will be a bigger crowd, but it does to some extent cede home advantage. Still this isn’t unusual. All the same, given that Edinburgh have some leeway to make up if they are to win this second leg of the Cup, one might think they would have preferred to play in their own patch where they have generally shone this season. Be that as it may, the outcome of these inter-city matches is rarely predictable.
It will be interesting to see Scotland’s two liveliest wings, Darcy Gaham and Rufus McLean in direct opposition, both returning from recent injuries, McLean’s a longer lasting one. Both are players who delight the crowd. It would be nice to think that both might line up in at least one of the summer Tests in Argentina.
There are of course other interesting individual contests in this match, with, for instance, Scotland’s first choice props, Zander Fagerson and Pierre Schoeman in direct opposition, likewise the two fly-halves, Blair Kinghorn and Ross Thompson. Kinghorn’s successful move from full-back or wing has been one of the happy surprises of this season and he is probably now Finn Russell’s nearest challenger for the number 10 Scotland jersey, but the cool and precise Thompson is a very shrewd and skilful game-manager, as well as being the most reliable goal-kicker we have. I imagine both will be in Greger Townsend’s summer squad, though Thompson is more likely to play in the “A” international against Chile than in any of the matches against Argentina.
In theory this should be an exciting open game with both teams capable of playing adventurous rugby and eager to love the ball, but local derbies are often stuffy affairs, and Glasgow have some very experienced forwards – Ryan Wilson, Jack Dempsey, Richie Gray and Rob Harley – all of whom relish an old-fashioned forward battle.
It will be Harley’s last inter-city match and few players have given more to Glasgow and the Scottish professional game than he has. He may never in his long career have fully established himself in the Scotland side at either lock or on the flank, but there can’t have been a more valuable and whole-hearted club man than Harley, and no one who more certainly deserves a happy and successful last flourish for Glasgow.
This isn’t the end of the season of course for either side. There is still the knock-out finale to the URC. Both have an extra incentive to win, for, if I have understood the state of things correctly, the loser will be faced with the unwelcome prospect of coming up against Leinster, and this is something to be avoided.