A big crowd, a festive derby at BT Murrayfield, high expectations. As Edinburgh have “Kylo” written on their shorts, I’ll quote Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi: this is not going to go the way you think.
After just three minutes in front of a hefty crowd, many there to see if it was true Edinburgh were indeed on the up, Glasgow’s fabled backline sprung into life from a simple set-piece lineout move and gave the home fans pause for thought.
Tommy Seymour cut a nice line through the defence between Jaco Van Der Walt and Phil Burleigh before spinning a nicely timed pass left to Huw Jones, whose first act in the game was to score a pretty simple try. something he does quite often at Murrayfield. Seymour later reverted to some of the odd mistakes that have dogged him since the summer but it was a breath of fresh air to see him in full flight again then.
Stung, Edinburgh’s pack put some effort into their next phases but in the act of clearing out Fraser Brown – who was himself in the act of conceding a penalty – Simon Berghan made contact with the head of Brown with his foot. The referee gave him half a chance but once the TMO was involved and you could see the prop looking down at Brown as he did it, it was always going to be a red card for dangerous play.
A look at the clock showed just 5 and a half minutes gone.
If you were looking for an underdog to support, Edinburgh were now that particular beast.
The extra man came into effect at the next scrum when Hamish Watson was banished back to the sidelines out of need for a tighthead, Matt Shields the replacement. An odd choice, but perhaps Richard Cockerill was wary of creating more space in the backline for Pete Horne and Jones to play with. Glasgow suddenly had a bit more impact at the breakdown but the requirement for an increased effort from Edinburgh certainly put some spice into the game; even the two scrum-halves had a dust up.
Irish referee Frank Murphy – himself a former 9 – awarded Edinburgh a penalty and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne got the home side on the board.
With the man advantage, when you might expect to see The Fast and the Furious 15, Glasgow suddenly developed the patient streak that has been missing all season. Edinburgh had plenty of ball but the Warriors were content to kick the ball to them, secure in their mid-to-wide defence.
Edinburgh in turn looked confident with the ball, Grant Gilchrist, Cornell Du Preez and “Bill” Mata carrying well, but they weren’t threatening the 22. Glasgow were happy soaking it up which was perhaps reassuringly professional if you’re Dave Rennie, but it threatened to flatline the atmosphere of a game that had promised so much.
Glasgow finished the half camped out on Edinburgh’s line. They were held up over the line twice and then with a nice set move lined up, Mata snaffled it when it popped loose out of the misfiring scrum. Edinburgh may have felt off the hook with time elapsed, but Glasgow had one more penalty and under the new laws, time for the lineout.
Again Edinburgh fought tooth and nail to defend, until Glasgow fumbled it and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne hoofed it into touch to the relief of the home support.
Half-time: Edinburgh 3-7 Glasgow
Edinburgh were organised defensively even with a man down, but Glasgow had the best of the opening phases in the second half. Alex Dunbar and Huw Jones almost combined successfully to streak down the wing, before Mata obligingly knocked it on in the middle of the park. Glasgow’s scrum clicked and won a penalty which Pete Horne slotted for, surprisingly, Glasgow’s first points with a man up.
Finn Russell is a player that terrorises defences at the best of times, so it must have been dispiriting to see him tactically replace Dunbar after 47 minutes but his introduction saw a spell of Edinburgh possession and another Hidalgo-Clyne penalty.
Edinburgh had struggled to find space for Blair Kinghorn and James Johnstone to exploit in attack, but they weren’t shy of trying on the odd occasions they did get the ball. The classy front row replacements for Glasgow were winning a steady stream of scrum penalties though, and Russell was able to kick to the corner for a lineout. Edinburgh didn’t engage in the hope the jumper Scott Cummings would move the ball back. He didn’t, which meant they stood off and watched as he grounded the ball for what would have seemed like a soft try to the gents in Richard Cockerill’s box.
Edinburgh had a series of attacking 5 metre lineouts just minutes later, and deployed a more traditional rolling maul that got Stuart McInally very close to the line before Nathan Fowles burrowed over at the second time of asking. Van der Walt converted and it was game on.
The Edinburgh crowd had a sniff of an upset, which improved the noise level, but Finn Russell was also starting to find holes and utilising his range of chips and dinky kicks. The game was opening up, when Edinburgh might have preferred it to stay tight. Glasgow weren’t as bad as they have been (and still won) this season but they were far from putting Edinburgh away as you might have expected from minute 6, making multiple handling errors with those last passes. A prime example was when Russell created a superb chance with five to play when he regathered his own chip, but Huw Jones misthrew the final pass to Lee Jones’ feet.
All of that left it just a four point game going into the last ten minutes, which when you think about it was almost a huge result in its own right.
But the home side weren’t finished there.
Edinburgh ended the game 5 metres out from Glasgow’s line. That setpiece had been superb all night under Toolis and Gilchrist and the maul duly rumbled forward, backs joining the effort until Frank Murphy signalled for a penalty. As Henry Pyrgos improbably applauded, Chris Dean broke from the back down the unguarded blindside – probably in hope of an advantage more than expectation – but when he looked round having grounded the ball, to his delight the try was awarded.
It was utterly unexpected given what happened in the opening moments, but all through the second half seemed more and more likely. Huge credit to Edinburgh for making this a game and ending Glasgow’s unbeaten run.
Richard Cockerill will probably enjoy his Turkey a little more than Dave Rennie this Christmas, even if Glasgow have a chance to put things right next weekend. He wanted to know about the character of this Edinburgh side, and he will have learned a thing or two.
Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU)
SRBlog Man of the Match: Berghan aside, Edinburgh’s pack got them back into this game and huge credit should go to Stuart McInally, Neil Cochrane, Ben Toolis and my pick Grant Gilchrist who put in a big effort in the lineout and the loose. Mata was also excellent with ball in hand. For Glasgow Finn Russell breathed life into the attack and Huw Jones might have been in contention but for a few sloppy passes. The workrate of Gibbins and Wilson was missed.