Stark contrast to a year ago for third and final 1872 Cup clash

© SNSAll attention is on Glasgow's exciting young scrum-half George Horne at Murrayfield tonight.
All attention is on Glasgow's exciting young scrum-half George Horne at Murrayfield tonight.

The perception of a post-Six Nations malaise is the same, but there can be no excuses for lack of motivation in today’s 1872 Cup season finale between Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors at BT Murrayfield.

Last year at this time the two Scots pro teams moved one of the festive fixtures to the final day of the regular season – at the league’s request – with nothing much at stake.

It was Gregor Townsend’s final game as Warriors coach and Edinburgh had just ended a record run of successive losses. Both teams had no play-off chances, their seasons diminishing like a leaky balloon in the aftermath of Scotland’s best Six Nations in two decades.

Naturally – given that cliché that form is supposed to mean nothing in derbies – Edinburgh won at Scotstoun for the first time and with something to spare, only their second victory in 2017 at the time.

Fast forward 12 months and both teams come into the third and final 1872 clash – standing at one win apiece with the Warriors having a hefty points differential advantage – with everything to play for, even though both are suffering from that same feeling of “after the Lord Mayor’s Show” in the wake of a fine Six Nations.

After last year’s hugely disappointing campaign, Glasgow have won their conference at a canter, winning a bye to a home semi-final with three weeks to spare. That was important, as they have won every league game at Scotstoun this season with a bonus point.

The Warriors have been coasting since they booked the play-offs, and several of their top order players seem to be suffering from a post Six Nations hangover. It’s imperative, with now virtually a full squad to pick from, Dave Rennie’s team starts running at full gear again.

Edinburgh, in a transformation even more unlikely than their win at Scotstoun a year ago, are one point away from a play-off place, and qualification for the European Champions Cup for the first time in four years.

Edinburgh can actually book qualification even before the warm-up, as due to TV scheduling they’ll know whether Ulster have got the bonus point away to Munster they need to stay alive. They’ll also know if Scarlets have managed the bonus point win they need over Dragons to book second place – and a home quarter-final.

If the Scarlets are still battered and bruised from their mauling by Leinster in the European semi last week and fail to get the five full points, Edinburgh can aim for a bonus point win and steal second place in Conference B, winning a home game against the Cheetahs.

The reward for winning that? A fourth crack at the Warriors in the semi-final.

Edinburgh were the first team to beat Glasgow in the league this season, another unlikely victory with 14 men for all but five minutes of the pre-Christmas contest at BT Murrayfield, secured by Chris Dean’s last-gasp try and an 18-17 scoreline.

A week later Glasgow dominated but never quite subdued Edinburgh in the return, Lee Jones’ late try against his old club making it look a lot easier at 17-0 than it ever was on the pitch.

The other sub-plot is impressing Townsend in the scrap for places on Scotland’s three-test summer tour to Canada, the USA and Argentina.

There’s going to be an element of experimentation with that tour, but there are chances for the likes of Dean, Jamie Ritchie and Magnus Bradbury with Edinburgh to stake claims, while with Glasgow all attention will be on scrum-half George Horne, a revelation in his first full pro season, with 13 tries in 14 appearances.

Horne and Finn Russell have teamed up just once this season, to devastating effect in Glasgow’s victory over Exeter in the Champions Cup. They and the fact that Rennie can call on eight players who didn’t play in the first two legs, most significantly back rowers Ryan Wilson and Callum Gibbins, makes the Warriors slight favourites.

I’d expect the Warriors to muscle their way to victory, but Edinburgh to get close enough to get the bonus point they probably won’t need after Ulster fail to get a five-point win in Limerick.

Then for the first time, there’s a two-pronged reason to stay interested in the Guinness PRO14 for Scottish fans during the play-offs.

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