If Glasgow wanted a way to nullify Edinburgh’s running threats, playing the game on a recently ploughed field would certainly do the trick. And so it was that both sides took to a damp Scotstoun for the first of this year’s 1872 Cup matches.
Greig Laidlaw announced his return to his best position of scrum-half with an early charge down on opposite number Niko Matawalu. That came to nothing, but Edinburgh kept up the pressure with a return to the offloading game so absent this season and they made some short term gains – no points scored though.
The worst time in an All Black game is when they make a mistake; for a brief second anything could happen, and as a sense of positivity flows through the opponent they are always quick to seize on a suddenly presented opportunity within the chaos. Ruaridh Jackson took his chance to do a peculiarly Scottish version of this, when he threw a pass to no-one, re-gathered it then somehow slipped an offload out of the impending tackle to set Peter Murchie and DTH Van Der Merwe running free down the wing.
Suddenly inspired, Glasgow kept attacking Lee Jones’ channel and played with all the enterprise. Niko Matawalu and Sean Lamont both had good breaks early on, and the Fijian 9’s influence only grew as the game wore on.
Rob Harley was next on the score sheet after Sean Maitland entangled his defender around a ruck close to the Edinburgh line and the openside dived over unopposed. The breakdown was a mess, the pitch was a mess. Al Kellock was in glorious control and right where he wanted his team: dominating physically and defending swiftly.
Both sets of players were clearly fired up and not overly fussed about eating Christmas dinner through a straw. With all the big hits going in it was an attritional first half, with Ford, Van Der Westhuizen and Fusaro all casualties in the opening twenty. With Englishman Titterell on for Ford, it gave returning Glasgow hooker Pat McArthur a bit of a showcase to see if he could offer something to the Scotland hooker shirt.
A third Glasgow try came from the impressive Matawalu’s well timed chip over which the ever-present van Der Merwe gathered as he slid though the mud and the line. Glasgow were in control and already hunting a bonus point, while Edinburgh were in danger of being blown away.
Laidlaw’s boot finally got some points on the board for Edinburgh as the half drew to a close. Occasionally hot-tempered, Glasgow were susceptible to the French referee’s whistle but Edinburgh were not making enough luck for themselves to reap some sort of benefit from it. They did look like they had an edge in the scrums, but that was about it.
Half-time Glasgow 17-3 Edinburgh
Edinburgh came out and grabbed a quick penalty which offered to restore some momentum their way. Then the comeback truly became an option after Matt Scott waltzed round Jackson to put Francis in the clear, and Edinburgh right back in the game. Edinburgh’s new standoff was caught by a Glasgow man on the line which probably pushed the conversion out wide enough to miss, but Edinburgh were back within touching distance.
The game went a bit quiet then in terms of action as Edinburgh were much more effective in their game plan and both sides were strong defensively.
Edinburgh’s big runners struggled to make much headway – Denton and McInally were fairly anonymous – against a combatitive Glasgow defence. At the centre of it all was Al Kellock (who announced a new contract keeping him at Scotstoun till the end of his professional career this week), but he was assisted in the leadership roles by Van Der Merwe and Sean Lamont; the whole Glasgow team was working for each other. You could say the same of Edinburgh, they just weren’t working as well.
Replacement Duncan Weir nabbed a penalty and then Laidlaw stuck one straight back through the middle to keep the gap 6 points. John Yapp was penalised for a high tackle on Stuart Hogg and Weir moved Glasgow clear again. Clearly spurred on, Weir and DTH set off on a foot race for a chip kick with Greig Tonks and only the TMO could intervene to show that Laidlaw had managed to sneak back and get a hand on it in the in-goal area.
It stayed scrappy until the end, with Edinburgh again pulling a scrum out of the bag after Glasgow had seemingly found their way in that particular set-piece and were themselves threatening to get a four try bonus point. Some fisticuffs broke out between Grant and Denton after some sort of MMA move from the bearded prop who had clearly had lessons from the All Blacks, but that served only to distract Edinburgh from their main task: getting something from the game.
By the time Richie’s little brother Jonny Gray made his pro debut and a bloodied Al Kellock was announced as man of the match to a resounding cheer from the vocal home support, the win was out of range for Edinburgh and the bonus point proved that way too.
Mission accomplished for Glasgow. For Edinburgh, only a week to scrape together some try-scoring nous and a plan to break down their opponent’s defence.
Additional Reporting by Michael Lamont
Glasgow Warriors: Peter Murchie(Hogg), Sean Maitland, Sean Lamont, Peter Horne, DTH Van der Merwe, Ruaridh Jackson(Weir), Niko Matawalu(Pyrgos), Ryan Wilson, Chris Fusaro, Rob Harley, Tim Swinson (Gray), Al Kellock (Captain), Moray Low, Pat MacArthur(Hall), Ryan Grant
Replacements: Gordon Reid, German Araoz, James Eddie.
Edinburgh: Greig Tonks, Lee Jones, James King, Matt Scott, Tim Visser, Piers Francis, Greig Laidlaw, Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford(Titterell), Willem Nel, Grant Gilchrist, Izak van der Westhuizen (Cox), David Denton, Roddy Grant, Stuart McInally.
Replacements: John Yapp, Geoff Cross, Netani Talei, Richie Rees, Ben Atiga, Dougie Fife.
Man of the Match- Al Kellock