Ahead of the first leg of 3 to decide the 1872 Cup, Edinburgh and Glasgow have been busy tying up their squads for next season. Niko Matawalu hadn’t been a roaring success at either Bath or Exeter so his desire to stay longer at a club where he remains hugely popular isn’t hard to imagine, but Jonny Gray should have been swimming in offers from abroad – Bristol was often touted as a possible destination – and capturing him for a further 2 years is a major coup. It’s easy to forget he’s still only 23 and he is rewarded with the captaincy this weekend.
Along the road, Edinburgh’s signings are less starry but continue to pin down the young talent around which Cockerill wants to build a strong future for the club. Lock Lewis Carmichael (22) and the impressive back rows Jamie Ritchie (21) and Luke Crosbie (20) have all signed new 2 year or more deals for Edinburgh, and in Crosbie’s case, it is his first pro contract. Fellow back row Viliame Mata has also signed an extension, having reportedly impressed Cockerill since returning to fitness.
To the game itself, and Glasgow are targeting Ulster’s record start of 11 unbeaten league games but they will have to match it away from home at BT Murrayfield. Given the extra room, you imagine a fair few Warriors fans will make the trip to the familiar surroundings so it won’t be a total home crowd, and is expected to be on the large side. With all three autumn tests sold out and interest in the game on a high around Scotland and Glasgow in particular, it will be interesting to see just how large it gets…
The areas where Edinburgh might be seen to have an advantage would be the back and second rows – although not far apart up front, the scrum will depend on Sutherland’s sharpness. His face off with Fagerson could be fiesty. Glasgow’s first choice back row might well be Wilson, Gibbins and Ashe and all three are injured but young Matt Smith impressed in patches against Montpellier and deserves a crack at some of his age-grade teammates. Wilson has picked up an ankle injury that will keep him out until the early stages of Six Nations prep and possibly the tournament itself. That in itself adds an extra layer of competition for Cornell du Preez, Jamie Ritchie, Rob Harley and the like to challenge for a Scotland place alongside Hamish Watson and John Barclay.
In the second row, if Scott Cummings is looking to force his way into Scotland contention, he’ll get a pretty good shot at the guys standing in his way.
The capital side are looking increasingly like a team with their mojo back under Cockerill but they haven’t been presented with a real stern challenge recently and the unbeaten Glasgow Warriors are packed with class throughout the team – even with Finn Russell saved for the bench in favour of Pete Horne.
Edinburgh’s mission is to prevent that class from asserting itself fully by choking off the source as Exeter, Leinster and Montpellier have managed to do but no one in the PRO14 has yet. Cockerill and his team have picked a very strong pack but the backline has a slightly makeshift feel to it. It’s a big chance for Sam Hidalgo-Clyne to reassert himself against Ali Price who is streets ahead of everyone else at the moment in the scrum-half berth, but outside that, a lot rests on the shoulders of James Johnstone and Blair Kinghorn. This weekend must have come just too soon for Mark Bennett who is rumoured to be fully fit again. He may well get a run off the bench at Scotstoun next weekend.
Would a good game for either Dougie Fife or Lee Jones on the wing see them come into contention for Scotland? Tommy Seymour has a fair bit to play for too.
Still, there remains a suspicion that this game will be won and lost up front.
Glasgow’s chief aim will be to cut out the silly errors, needless offloads and play more directly before flinging the ball about. It’s been less “chaos” than “mindless” so far, but the worry for Edinburgh is that the Warriors are so incisive it only needs to click a couple of times per game to get them over the try line and seal that win.
If they concentrate for a full 80 we know that they can be brilliant, we haven’t seen it this season – and yet they are still unbeaten.
Tussle to watch: Fraser Brown vs Stuart McInally. Winner takes the Scotland shirt in February, and at the moment it is Rambo’s to lose.
Key man: Jonny Gray. If the captain plays well the Glasgow pack plays well, and if they do that and get momentum going forward then they may have too much in the backline for Edinburgh.
Dark Horse: Blair Kinghorn. With Stuart Hogg still out injured he has a real chance to shine and he could cause Ruaridh Jackson real problems at the back.
Edinburgh Rugby: 15. Blair Kinghorn, 14. Dougie Fife, 13. James Johnstone, 12. Phil Burleigh, 11. Duhan van der Merwe, 10. Jaco van der Walt, 9. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne; 1. Rory Sutherland, 2. Stuart McInally (CAPT), 3. Simon Berghan, 4. Ben Toolis, 5. Grant Gilchrist, 6. Viliame Mata, 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Cornell du Preez.
Replacements: 16. Neil Cochrane, 17. Murray McCallum, 18. Matt Shields, 19. Fraser McKenzie, 20. Jamie Ritchie, 21. Nathan Fowles, 22. Chris Dean, 23. Darcy Graham.
Glasgow Warriors: 15. Ruaridh Jackson, 14. Tommy Seymour, 13. Huw Jones, 12. Alex Dunbar, 11. Lee Jones, 10. Peter Horne, 9. Ali Price; 1. Jamie Bhatti, 2. Fraser Brown, 3. Zander Fagerson, 4. Scott Cummings, 5. Jonny Gray (CAPT), 6. Robert Harley, 7. Matt Smith, 8. Samu Vunisa.
Replacements: 16. Pat MacArthur, 17. Oli Kebble, 18. Siua Halanukonuka, 19. Kiran McDonald, 20. Chris Fusaro, 21. Henry Pyrgos, 22. Finn Russell, 23. Niko Matawalu.
Glasgow players not available due to injury: Adam Ashe (ankle), Brian Alainu’uise (knee), Callum Gibbins (achilles), Stuart Hogg (hip), Rory Hughes (shoulder), Sam Johnson (jaw), Paddy Kelly (achilles), Lelia Masaga (knee), Greg Peterson (ankle), Leo Sarto (shoulder), Tim Swinson (hand), Ratu Tagive (Achilles) and Ryan Wilson (ankle).
Live on BBC ALBA and Sky Sports, kick-off 5.15pm.