When it comes to winning derby matches for Edinburgh Rugby against arch-rivals Glasgow, nobody in the current squad has greater insight than Alasdair Dickinson.
The 31-year-old Scotland prop forward was on the bench for the victories at Murrayfield in 20404-05 and also a year later. By the time Edinburgh completed a home hat-trick in 2006-07, he had progressed to the starting line-up.
What those experiences have taught Dickinson is that it is vital to treat the contests on their own merits and resist any temptation to regard them as a form of international trial.
“I was probably more inclined to think about things differently when I was younger,” said the 39-times capped player, who was entitled to bristle at being described as a ‘veteran’ in the programme for a match Edinburgh lost 16-6 at Scotstoun last weekend.
He added: “I learned that if you get carried away with things other than the greater good of the team you can sometimes slip up and do what you wouldn’t normally do.
“I don’t tend to think of what is often a scrappy, niggly match because players know each other so well as a national trial. I am old enough and wise enough to just get on with the job in hand.
“I can’t pick the Scotland team. You can only ever train and play as best you can and what will be will be.
“It is essentially a league game. We are lying eighth and we don’t want to be there.
“This is a league game and we need points. I guess in a lot of people’s eyes this is a Scotland trial but distractions can get in the way.”
The derby carries the reward of the 1872 Cup awarded to the team with the best points tally over two legs, and before leaving to pursue a career at Gloucester and Sale, Dickinson’s first three Murrayfield experiences of the tie drew crowds of 3932, 2502 and 4343. Tonight that aggregate of 10,777 looks certain to be surpassed – and Dickinson intends to savour every moment.
He might be the oldest player in the Edinburgh line-up but his appetite for the fray is increasing. “I want to go on as long as I can. I don’t see myself ending soon. I went through a few tough years with shoulder injuries, especially at Sale, and looking back I regard experiences like waking up groggy after surgery to be told something had gone wrong and I’d be out for an extra four months as character forming. In those pretty dark times something insists you get through and often it is the derby games.
“I joke about being the oldest player in the Edinburgh squad but when you are older you realise how good it is. When you are young you think it will last forever. Sometimes going out in temperatures of minus five degrees in Scottish hail is not that appealing but you do it anyway because you know you want to.”
What is different compared to Dickinson’s last victory over Glasgow is the way he approaches games. Now hailed as one of the most formidable scrummagers in Europe and an obvious candidate at this stage for the 2017 Lions, he was, initially, picking up plaudits for getting around the pitch to snap up tries with his support running ... while the set-piece creaked. “Things do seem to have turned around but hopefully there are a few tries still left in me although I haven’t scored for a while.
“Nowadays it is about quality training rather than quantity quite apart from the fact I have to peel myself out of bed in the morning because I am so sore.
“When I was younger I would get up early, train, come to rugby and train and then go home and train again. Now, quality is more important to me than quantity. I still do exercises but I sit down and think what I need to do to get better.
“It is always about setting my standard high and trying to get better. It was different when I was young in that I was not playing as much. Spending more time on the bench means you can afford to train more.”
Dickinson is also learning to harness the ambitions of younger props to keep him on his toes. “In any team you only ever borrow the jersey. It is never yours to keep. At Edinburgh there are great young props such as Rory Sutherland, Alan Dell, who are also good kids.
“They push me to keep performing and they’re are going to come through at some stage and kick me out the other end.
“But I’ll try to help them the same way I was helped early in my career by the likes of Chunk (Allan Jacobsen), Craig Smith and Dave Hewitt.”
Don’t expect Edinburgh’s restricted approach to change much even on a Murrayfield pitch that is wider than Glasgow’s Scotstoun home.
But it is a fact that the smallest winning margin in four straight home successes is eight points and with top referee Nigel Owens in charge a more flowing spectacle is widely anticipated.
That could play into the hands of a team like Edinburgh obliged to go out chasing and whose forward effort has been proven sufficiently strong to provide a platform for a back-line strengthened by the return of Tim Visser, a player with the knack of claiming vital tries at vital times.
In fact, Visser scored his first try in this fixture on the last occasion Edinburgh won back in 2010-11 and he has hardly stopped since, missing out on only one occasion for a haul of five from six appearances.