The trend is set, the balance of power between Glasgow and Edinburgh is clear, and is likely to be re-enforced in the first of three meetings in this Guinness PRO14 season at BT Murrayfield
Except it’s not what you think, or how canny Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill has been playing it this week. Edinburgh should be narrow favourites to win the 1872 Cup first leg today, with recent history on their side, and a stronger 23 taking the pitch than their historic rivals.
Cockerill’s attempts to entrench Edinburgh as the perennial underdog in these 1872 Cup derbies may have worked when the Warriors were winning these games at a canter three years ago, but recent history has been very different.
If you agree that form goes out the window in these unique games, then Edinburgh have to be favourites. They have won four of the last five meetings of the teams, and Cockerill definitely has moved them on considerably from when they won with some comfort at Scotstoun back in May, the club’s first victory at that venue.
It’s true you can’t compare Glasgow’s games against Montpellier in the last fortnight in the European Champions’ Cup with Edinburgh’s against a disinterested London Irish and the hopelessly out of their depth Krasny Yar.
Glasgow’s ten from ten in the PRO14 is undeniably impressive, particularly as they haven’t fielded their strongest XV at any time. But neither have the quality teams they’ve beaten played their strongest team in any of those ten games – with the possible exception of the win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. When it has happened in Europe, they’ve lost all four games.
You could certainly make a case for the 1872 Cup being more like a European game than a standard PRO14 fixture. Certainly Edinburgh, despite a few front row issues, are playing their best available team and they have much more of a cutting edge under Cockerill than before.
Blair Kinghorn’s first minute howler at Murrayfield in this fixture last year gave Glasgow a head start to their only win over Edinburgh since Christmas 2014. Kinghorn has largely eradicated such mistakes this year and has become a huge attacking weapon, the kind of cutting edge that Glasgow have monopolised in recent times. Duhan van der Merwe is the kind of physical finisher that thrived at Edinburgh in the shape of Tim Visser.
The Warriors still have plenty of threat. But minus Stuart Hogg (through injury) and Finn Russell (through choice) they’re not quite as scary as they might be.
While Cockerill has vowed that Edinburgh will play rugby, it’s not in their interest to play an open game. Defensively, the only wildcard they have to worry about is Huw Jones, making his debut in the fixture and playing on a pitch he has come to love.
Instead, the Edinburgh pack should maintain the edge they’ve had in recent meetings. Cockerill’s back row of Viliame Mata, Hamish Watson and Cornell du Preez is far more dynamic than Glasgow’s, which is missing Calum Gibbins, Ryan Wilson and Adam Ashe.
In addition Glasgow’s maul defence has been found to be wanting again this year, and if Edinburgh can pressure them at the breakdown the way that Leinster and Montpellier were able to, then penalties for mauling attack chances will come.
Cockerill is right that Glasgow are probably the strongest team Edinburgh have met for two months. But apart from those long-term front row issues – and they’ve managed them fairly well – and losing two stand-offs, Edinburgh have been relatively unscathed by their recent run of eight wins from nine games. You can’t say the same of Glasgow, who seem more battle-scarred than battle-hardened from recent matches.
The Warriors still have enough quality to make it very close, and if Edinburgh are too open, Glasgow will have every chance of equalling the league record of 11 consecutive wins. You got a definite sense that Cockerill would far rather have them at Myreside than the wide open spaces of Murrayfield.
But Edinburgh are no slouches running the ball themselves, scoring nearly 180 points in their last three matches even taking into account the opposition. The pre-Cockerill team never did that, and they were still good enough to beat Glasgow regularly. They should be favoured to do so again today.
Last five meetings:
May 6, 2017, Scotstoun: Glasgow 18 Edinburgh 29
Dec 26, 2016, Murrayfield: Edinburgh 12 Glasgow 25
Jan 2, 2016, Murrayfield: Glasgow 11 Edinburgh 14
Dec 27, 2015, Murrayfield: Edinburgh 23 Glasgow 11
Jan 2, 2015, Murrayfield: Edinburgh 20 Glasgow 8
Edinburgh (vs Glasgow Warriors, Guinness PRO14/1872 Cup, Murrayfield, ko 5.15pm, live on BBC Alba and Sky Sports): Blair Kinghorn; Dougie Fife, James Johnstone, Phil Burleigh, Duhan van der Merwe; Jaco van der Walt, Sam Hidalgo Clyne; Rory Sutherland, Stuart McInally (capt), Simon Berghan; Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist; Viliame Mata, Hamish Watson, Cornell du Preez. Replacements: Neil Cochrane, Murray McCallum, Matt Shields, Fraser McKenzie, Jamie Ritchie, Nathan Fowles, Chris Dean, Darcy Graham.
Glasgow: Ruaridh Jackson; Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Alex Dunbar, Lee Jones; Peter Horne, Ali Price; Jamie Bhatti, Fraser Brown, Zander Fagerson; Jonny Gray (capt), Scott Cummings; Rob Harley, Matt Smith, Samu Vunisa. Replacements: Pat MacArthur, Oli Kebble, Siua Halanukonuka, Kiran McDonald, Chris Fusaro, Henry Pyrgos, Finn Russell, Niko Matawalu.
Ref: F Murphy (IRFU)