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Plenty to play for in 1872 derbies

24th December 2013 09:13

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Glasgow win 1872 Cup 2012

Glasgow lifted the cup in 2012

There are more than points and bragging rights at stake during the 1872 Cup clashes between Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors.

It was somewhat telling that, in the days leading up to the first of the two festive 1872 Cup fixtures, the respective coaches of Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors sought to pay tribute to their opponents.

"Objective analysis puts Glasgow favourites," claimed Edinburgh boss Alan Solomons.

"We know we're up against it this week," said Warriors counterpart Gregor Townsend.

The brace of clashes comes at a time in the domestic season where neither side is entirely sure of itself.

After a tricky start, to be expected given Solomons' late arrival from the Southern Kings, Edinburgh look to be finding some form, intelligence and momentum. But they retain the sort of maddening naivety and inconsistency that so plagued their campaign last season. They head into the Boxing Day game off the back of two fine victories over Gloucester at Kingsholm, and league champions Leinster at Murrayfield seven days later.

But one must cast back an eye little more than two weeks, when the Cherry and Whites traveled north, to glimpse a performance so bereft of cohesion and solidarity that it bordered on suicidal, and bore a rather chastening resemblance to the disjointed latter days of Michael Bradley's reign in charge.

The Warriors, on the other hand, went unbeaten in the league until late October, claiming some impressive scalps in the process. They also approach the opener with the benefit of an extra week minus the rigors of a Pro12 game, after Friday's fixture against Treviso was postponed.

But the fluidity and ruthlessness that has been so integral to Glasgow's success in recent years deserted them during their Heineken Cup double-header with a weakened Cardiff Blues side.

In fact, they were almost Scotland-esque in their ability to dominate territory and possession, but fail to execute the opportunities they created.

And it is Scotland and the forthcoming Six Nations Championship, rather than PRO12 points, bragging rights and silverware that these matches are all about.

The 1872 Cup battles are referred to as "Scotland trials" more often than an unwitting tourist is startled by the firing of the capital city's one o'clock gun, but arguably, never has the phrase rang truer than this winter.

The November Tests, in the eyes of Scotland boss Scott Johnson, were a tool to broaden the national squad base, and hand fringe players the opportunity to impress at Test level.

They largely served their purpose in that regard; results were sacrificed to give Johnson and his staff a look at the international credentials of a number, though the rotation policy did make for some scratching of heads.

But the scenario that now faces the Australian is one of uncertainty. There are scarcely a handful of positions where one can confidently predict by whom they will be filled come Scotland's Six Nations curtain-raiser in Dublin.

Uncertainty at this stage is no bad thing, however.

"I want these guys to know that they have to work to get into this Scotland team," said Johnson in the wake of the final November clash, a 21-15 loss to Australia.

And with the race for starting slots likely to be so hotly-contested, there is much work still to be done by those on the field. That's why such a burden of significance is placed upon the festive derbies.

There are enticing match-ups across the pitch. Ross Ford faltered at hooker last month, while the Warriors' Pat MacArthur has been in good form.

Both scrum-halves, Greig Laidlaw and Chris Cusiter respectively, skipper their sides. Both are excellent, but very different players. Both will have their sights set on the navy number nine jersey come February.

Greig Tonks has filled in at fly-half for Edinburgh with injury sidelining Harry Leonard, and was a leading light in the victories at Kingsholm and Murrayfield. His opposite number, Duncan Weir, is the man many have earmarked as Scotland's long-term pivot, but his form has dipped since returning to Glasgow duty.

Perhaps most intriguing of all is the selection of the gifted Stuart Hogg in midfield, at outside centre. The 21-year-old is frankly skilled enough to shine anywhere in the backline, but this switch sees him facing Nick De Luca - the much-maligned man in possession of the national 13 jersey.

True to Scottish style of late, tries may come at a premium during the back-to-back showdowns. But with so much at stake, these games should prove as engrossing as ever as the countdown to the Six Nations begins in earnest.

By Jamie Lyall
@JLyall93

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