EDINBURGH may have had the better of the 1872 Cup in recent seasons, but there are more than a few Glasgow players who remember when their own team had the upper hand in the fixture. Rob Harley, for one, has been around long enough to have participated in some memorable Warriors victories, so the 28-year-old forward will certainly not go into Saturday’s derby at Scotstoun suffering from any sense of inferiority.
What he will have instead is a fierce desire to set the record straight, from a Glasgow point of view. Edinburgh have won eight out of the last 10 meetings with their rivals, and their two victories so far this season have ensured that they will retain the cup. But this match is the one that counts most for the home team as they look for the win that will take them straight through to the PRO14 semi-finals.
“When I was first at the club, I remember lifting the 1872 Cup a few years in a row when we had Al [Kellock] as captain,” Harley said. “We’ve not lifted it in the last few years, so I think as well as just a derby game it’s big for us that they’ve had the better of us the last few games. That’s on top of the usual charge of the derby.
“When you talk stuff like eight in the last 10, there are some guys – I’ll be one of them – who have been at the club five years ago in those games, but there are a lot of guys in this season who haven’t played Edinburgh before looking forward to that. And the same for them – they’ll have change throughout their squad as well. I think you can look at this season and the way they’ve played against us this season – they’ve managed to win key areas of the game. So it’s a challenge for us to try and rise to that, and hopefully we improve from those previous games.”
Glasgow won the cup five seasons in a row from 2009-10, most recently lifted the trophy in 2016-17, and still have seven wins to Edinburgh’s five in the mini-tournament. But, while there is little doubt that they have been the better of Scotland’s two sides for much of the past dozen years, of late they have appeared more and more uncertain about how to deal with the capital team, who have become dominant in the set piece. With a bonus-point win likely to be their only chance of getting into the top three in their conference, Richard Cockerill’s team may have to turn to more expansive tactics this time round, but however they play, Harley knows his own team will need to be ready to fight fire with fire.
“We’re coming off two losses, so however Edinburgh choose to play, we’ve got to show up and try and bring our physicality and get an improved performance. We’ve looked at the way we played in those games and what they’ve been able to do, and how we’ve played in the last couple of weeks. There’s lots of stuff for us to work on. We know it’s a massive challenge. We’ve had two losses so far, so I think we’d take a win however it comes. Edinburgh are very good at the style of rugby that they want to play – they go direct, they try and control the tempo of the game – but they might well try and surprise us with some other stuff, so we’ve got to be ready for that. It might be a tough, hard-nosed battle that they try and take us to, and they also might try and throw the ball around, so it’s something we’ll have to prepare for and be ready for.
“I don’t know what they’ll be saying. I’m sure they’ll be looking to win first and foremost. You’re going out there and you’re trying to win the game first of all: tactical considerations come in later on. I think the primary thing for both teams is you have to win the game first.”
If Glasgow do win, they will be back at Scotstoun for next month’s semi-final against the winners of the quarter-final play-off between Ulster and Connacht. If they win that one, they will have a home-city final to look forward to, at Celtic Park – something that Harley admitted is in the back of the squad’s minds as they prepare for the run-in to the season.
“It’s massive for us. We’ve got our destiny in our hands: if we win the next two games we could play all our games the rest of the season in Glasgow. That’s a huge advantage for us – I think everyone in the squad is excited about taking that chance, and hopefully that will be a great run-in to the business end of the season.”