IT is amazing how quickly the pendulum can swing. A few injuries to key men, a couple of unconvincing performances leading to disappointing results, an absolute shocker when you badly misfire for 76 minutes against 14-men to lose a derby match which really should have been a nailed on win, and all of a sudden the swagger which characterised Glasgow Warriors’ start to this season has disappeared leaving Dave Rennie’s men under serious pressure to get things back on track before a mid-campaign blip becomes something far more fundamental.
Edinburgh, meanwhile, have scrambled out of the dungeon of mediocrity which has held them captive for several frustrating years, and although they are still a long way from being the finished article there is a vibrancy about the side under Richard Cockerill which supports the theory that last weekend’s sensational last gasp success against their arch-rivals was something much more substantial than a mere fluke.
The capital side showed admirable grit to recover from the early set-back of a red card shown to prop Simon Berghan to battle to an 18-17 victory they thoroughly deserved, and they will travel west for the return match against the Warriors this Saturday full of confidence.
It is going to be a fascinating contest and a real test of nerve. This could be a season defining moment for both clubs. Each has put off naming their team for the match until later today [Friday] with injuries leaving them stretched in certain key areas.
For Edinburgh, the front-row is an issue, with at least four capped props out either injured or suspended, and large question marks hanging over the heads of another two. Samoan internationalist Jordan Lay was recruited yesterday as emergency cover.
Warriors, meanwhile, will once again miss the game-changing brilliance of Stuart Hogg at full-back, although they will be boosted by the inevitable return of Finn Russell to the starting fifteen after being left on the bench until well after the mood of the match had been fully established last week.
But their big concern is with the back of the scrum, where the absence through injury of club captain Ryan Wilson and talisman Callum Gibbins leaves a huge gap in terms of leadership, general rugby nous, aggression and all-round toughness.
The highly experienced Rob Harley came back from injury last week to bolster this key area but really struggled to assert himself, despite the fact Berghan’s sending off meant that Edinburgh openside Hamish Watson had to make way for a replacement prop leaving the home team with just two back-rows in Cornell Du Preez and Villame Mata for 41 minutes (until Jamie Ritchie replaced winger Dougie Fife to add some serious ballast to the back-row during the final half hour).
Harley knows he will have to be much better this week, and is clearly determined to make his point in a match which tends to fit his no-thrills approach to the game.
“I think the nature of the derby is that you are coming in to fight for the line and credit to Edinburgh for putting in a huge performance last week,” he said.
“It was tough to take. That is why we are watching it back and trying to take the lessons from it. With a loss, there is a lot to look at and improve on, and that’s the positive: that we get a chance to play the same team and hopefully improve.”
“Fair play to Edinburgh, playing with a man down is one of the hardest things you can do in the game and they did really well given that challenge. So, if we look at that we can try and take some of those qualities, the determination that they showed and the physicality, and we can try to instil that into our game.”
“I don’t know if you can take the passion out of it – I don’t think you’d want to. It is just a necessary part of it. It’s just directing that aggression into the right areas, and hopefully being accurate and deadly when you have the ball, and not getting over-excited by it and making mistakes.”
Harley added that Edinburgh had not surprised Warriors with their tactical approach to the game but acknowledged that a few lessons had been taken on board about desire and fighting spirit.
“By and large they did what we expected, they just did it very well,” he explained.
“It is a physical battle there all across the back-row. They have great attacking ball carriers and guys who will slow down our ball, so it is important for the whole pack and back-row to meet that challenge.”
“We have raised the level [at training this week] and talked about what we have to improve on. We have upped our physicality and we are trying to press ourselves to be better,”