If you want to know what Glasgow’s current top team looks like, it’s a good bet that the team they choose for the back-to-back legs of the 1872 Cup against Edinburgh will be it. Edinburgh, too, will throw everything at these two matches – they are the closest you get to an International trial these days. Andy Robinson will be watching.
So, what hard facts can we learn from the selections announced yesterday?
Despite impressing early on in the season, Matt Scott has been held out of the starting line-up by James King and the rest of Edinburgh’s back division pretty much picks itself on form. Harry Leonard is perhaps unfortunate he won’t get a chance to step up for this game: Greig Laidlaw might not officially be a standoff, but he sure seems to be running his game like one. People used to ask if perhaps Blair could be played at 10 in order to accommodate him and Cusiter – I guess this is Michael Bradley’s version.
The older scrum-half Blair also seems to have recovered a bit of zip with the realisation he is now not a guaranteed starter, and perhaps King and Scott’s appearance has also helped De Luca rediscover his form post World Cup. If Morrison doesn’t show up, you could argue for De Luca and London Irish’s Ansbro being the in-form centres right now and the pair to take on England. In Glasgow’s flyhalf dilemma, Lineen has chosen Weir to partner Cusiter. Was that the sound of a frog being leapt?
Rory Lamont teams up on the wing with David Lemi (who was barred from Heineken Cup action these past two weekends) but can’t get that man Hogg out of the fullback shirt, and they will face off against try machine Visser and his speedy sidekick Jones, who I suppose you could say was like a Borders version of David Lemi – pacy and agile and loves a good run.
In the forwards, Chunk is awaiting news of recovery from a head knock so may or may not make the team. Even if he doesn’t, there could be some clash in the front row; although it looks like Edinburgh would have the edge, Glasgow showed over in Montpellier that they could bring the pain when required and they may well have the edge with their all-international second row. Still, Gilchrist might be looking to lay down a marker with news of Hines’ retirement and a space in the usual pool of four locks up for grabs.
In the ever crucial back row a rejuvenated Johnnie Beattie retains his place to go up against rampaging Fijian Talei, and Ross Rennie gets the nod over Grant at openside for Edinburgh to go head to head with John Barclay. Barclay is a Robbo favourite, but if a tru contender were to emerge… Either Denton or Harley could be in good enough form to play for Scotland – though they would have to go some to oust Kelly Brown – but if no clear frontrunner emerges at Number 8 then this could be the best chance they get to stake a claim to that 6 shirt while Brown fills the other one. So for five out of the six back row contenders, it could be make or break time. While unburdened by all this talk of Scotland, Talei will just want to do some smashing.
And I didn’t even find time to talk much about our pictured heroes, Blair and Cusiter.
That’s because everywhere you look, the matchups are fascinating.
Edinburgh: Chris Paterson; Lee Jones, Nick De Luca, James King, Tim Visser; Greig Laidlaw (capt), Mike Blair; Allan Jacobsen/Kyle Traynor, Ross Ford, Geoff Cross, Grant Gilchrist, Sean Cox, David Denton, Ross Rennie, Netani Talei.
Replacements: Alun Walker, Kyle Traynor/Robin Hislop, Jack Gilding, Esteban Lozada, Roddy Grant, Phil Godman, Matt Scott, Jim Thompson.
Glasgow Warriors: Stuart Hogg, David Lemi, Troy Nathan, Graeme Morrison, Rory Lamont; Duncan Weir, Chris Cusiter, Ryan Grant, Pat MacArthur, Mike Cusack, Richie Gray, Al Kellock, Rob Harley, John Barclay, Johnnie Beattie
Replacements: Dougie Hall, Jon Welsh, Moray Low, Tom Ryder, Chris Fusaro, Henry Pyrgos, Ruaridh Jackson, Colin Shaw
Murrayfield, Monday 26th December, 5pm (live on BBC Alba)