Edinburgh and Glasgow will be without key men for Sunday’s first leg of the 1872 Cup derby doubleheader but concussion doubts on both sides have been passed fit to play.
Captain Jonny Gray has been cleared to man his usual berth for the Warriors while Anton Bresler passed his assessment for Edinburgh, but the capital club will be absent their scrum lynchpin Alasdair Dickinson while Glasgow will miss former Edinburgh stalwart Mike Blair and face three months without Rob Harley.
The Warriors and Scotland back-rower is out of the derbies and the forthcoming RBS 6 Nations after a severe dislocation of his thumb in Saturday’s European win against the Scarlets.
“Typical Rob, he played on for two or three more phases before he alerted the physios that the bone might not be in the right place,” said head coach Gregor Townsend.
“He’s gutted because he so enjoys these matches and he missed out on the second leg last year after getting a knee injury in the first match.”
Blair has been rested after suffering concussion against Scarlets but while Gray failed a head injury assessment at pitchside after Harley had alerted the referee and physios to his captain’s condition he was cleared the following day.
“One of the symptoms for concussion is being argumentative, and Jonny was certainly that when we took him off,” said Townsend. “I think it was great that Rob as a team-mate spotted it and immediately told the ref, it shows how seriously the players are taking concussion now.”
Townsend expects his players to be highly motivated for the two legs, although he knows he’ll have to make changes from week to week with the Warriors playing five European Cup ties on either side of the derbies.
“We’d do that anyway, Stuart Hogg, Peter Horne and Adam Ashe were off last week, there’s a couple getting that this week,” he said.
“It’s a busy period and tough rugby, guys can’t play more than five games in a row and some guys aren’t allowed to play, which I think is a really good policy. It means players are fresh and there are also opportunities for others.”
Townsend knows all about Edinburgh’s strong setpiece, but believes their biggest strength is their defence.
“The stats show they have the best defence in the league,” he said. “They’ve been tough to break down and they’ve got arguably the best scrum, the three guys in the front row have been exceptional for Edinburgh and Scotland.
“They’re starting to play a more open style as well, they’re second in offloads and second in time in possession this season in the PRO12. We’ll need to do our homework, we’ve closely watched their games against Ulster which they nearly won and last week’s game against London Irish.”
Townsend is also pleased with news that a record crowd of over 20,000 is expected for the first match.
“I know that’s in a stadium holding 67,000 but it means there will be a great atmosphere,” he said. “I think it shows how people are now embracing professional rugby in Scotland.”
Dickinson, a fixture for Edinburgh and Scotland throughout 2015, has not recovered from the calf injury that saw him miss last week’s European Challenge Cup win over London Irish.
Bu Bresler, who did not return for the second half of that match after suffering a head knock, has been cleared, a huge relief to Alan Solomons who already has four locks out injured.
Matt Scott’s recovery from injury means there are just two changes in the Edinburgh team from last Friday, with Jack Cuthbert and Dougie Fife coming in. Ross Ford will make his 150th appearance for the club at hooker.
“With both clubs winning their European fixtures last weekend, the teams will be looking for the momentum to carry through to a winning performance on Sunday,” said the head coach. “We know how keen Glasgow are to win back the trophy and how intent we are on retaining it so I’ve no doubt it will be a highly physical encounter.
“Our pack were, again, excellent last weekend and, on a personal note, I’d like to congratulate Ross Ford on reaching a milestone 150 caps. It’s a great achievement from a player who has been a magnificent servant to the club.”
Edinburgh: Jack Cuthbert; Dougie Fife, Michael Allen, Matt Scott, Tom Brown; Phil Burleigh, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne; Rory Sutherland, Ross Ford, WP Nel; Anton Bresler, Alex Toolis; Mike Coman (capt), John Hardie, Cornell Du Preez.
Replacements: Neil Cochrane, Allan Dell, John Andress, Ben Toolis, Jamie Ritchie, Sean Kennedy, Greig Tonks, Andries Strauss.
Glasgow: Stuart Hogg; Taqele Naiyaravoro, Mark Bennett, Peter Horne, Tommy Seymour; Finn Russell, Grayson Hart; Ryan Grant, Fraser Brown, Sila Puafisi; Leone Nakarawa, Jonny Gray (capt); Ryan Wilson, Chris Fusaro, Adam Ashe.
Replacements: James Malcolm, Gordon Reid, Zander Fagerson, Tim Swinson, Simone Favaro, Ali Price, Sam Johnson, Lee Jones.