Captain Mike Coman hailed a “brave” performance from Edinburgh Rugby after they clinched a 23-11 victory over Glasgow Warriors in the first leg of the 1872 Cup at BT Murrayfield.
The Capital outfit, holders of the trophy after last season’s triumph, had to dig deep to land the first blow in the annual inter-city clash, but they take a slender advantage to Scotstoun in five days time thanks to tries from Matt Scott and John Hardie and the trusty boot of Sam Hidalgo-Clyne.
“It was a brave performance,” said Coman. “A great effort, especially in that last ten minutes. It showed a lot of character. Some of the experienced guys were off and younger subs were on and they held it together well.
“But it is a job half-done, of course. We came away with a loss in the first game last year and ended up winning the thing. We’ve got to be focused and I said in the huddle it’s only half done and we need to get the fire in the belly and head to Scotstoun now. We’ll have to wait and see if 12 points is enough but it’s a good start.”
Coman’s words were echoed by his coach Alan Solomons who, although delighted with his team’s performance, sounded notes of caution ahead of the return match. “It was massively physical out there and we’re pleased with the result,” said Solomons. “But Glasgow are a very, very good side, they’re at home at Scotstoun so the wind is still behind their back in that sense.”
Edinburgh may have gone into this match as holders, but they were still billed as underdogs due to Glasgow’s impressive league form. This match doubled up as a Guinness Pro12 fixture and Edinburgh will be pleased to have taken points off the champions.
The inter-city showdown is viewed as a semi-trial and Scotland internationalists contributed all 34 points in front of a 23,642 crowd which was comfortably a record for the fixture and a home game in the league for Edinburgh.
It was Glasgow who made the early breakthrough in the seventh minute when Leone Nakarawa turned over possession and sparked a wave of attacks which stretched Edinburgh both ways before Mark Bennett made the decisive break and managed to get over. Finn Russell, however, missed the reasonably easy conversion.
Edinburgh responded well to the early setback and were level five minutes later when Dougie Fife and Cornell Du Preez combined to allow Scott to hit the right angle and score on the right. Hidalgo-Clyne was more accurate with his conversion and the home side were in front.
Roared on by the bulk of the crowd, Edinburgh began to build their most dominant mini-period of the game so far and got their reward in the 31st minute when Irish referee John Lacey penalised Glasgow for not rolling away and Hidalgo-Clyne gobbled up the three points from 25 yards out and central.
Edinburgh were well worth the lead and Glasgow couldn’t have any complaints if they had stretched it out to eight points just before the break. However, the penalty that came was right on the edge of Hidalgo-Clyne’s range and he couldn’t make it.
Glasgow got the first scoring opportunity of the second half and, from close range, Russell would have been relieved to finally open his account and cut the deficit to two points.
Much had been made in the build up of Glasgow’s superior backline, but the home centre pairing of Scott and Irishman Mike Allen was linking well and edging the midfield battle with Horne and Bennett up to this point. The pair interchanged beautifully to create an opening which Glasgow could only stop illegally and Hidalgo-Clyne made no mistake from 35 yards out to make it 13-8.
An Edinburgh offside then gave Russell another easy chance to peg the lead back again, before Glasgow collapsed a maul and Hidalgo-Clyne was on target once more.
As the game ticked towards the last ten minutes Glasgow’s frustrations grew as they failed to find any fluidity and Edinburgh refused to buckle.
The decisive moment came in the 70th minute when Edinburgh stand-off Phil Burleigh angled a perfect kick to the corner after a high-tackle penalty. The lineout was secured and a ferocious driving maul speared through the Warriors pack, with openside Hardie getting the touchdown before leaving the field with a head knock. Hidalgo-Clyne banged over the extras to create a 12-point gap – the same as they managed in the corresponding victory last season which won them the cup.
The final word deservedly goes to Hardie, who once again showed why he is regarded as one of the best back-rowers the Pro12. “John had a terrific game, an absolutely terrific game,” said Solomons. “Apparently he’d said after that this was harder than any Test he’d played. He is a very, very good rugby player.”
Edinburgh: Tries: Scott, Hardie. Cons: Hidalgo-Clyne 2. Pens: Hidalgo-Clyne 3.
Glasgow: Try: Bennett. Pens: Russell 2.
Edinburgh: J Cuthbert; D Fife, M Allen, M Scott, T Brown; P Burleigh, S Hidalgo-Clyne; R Sutherland, R Ford, WP Nel, A Bresler, A Toolis, M Coman (c), J Hardie, C Du Preez. Subs: N Cochrane, A Dell, J Andress, B Toolis, J Ritchie, S Kennedy, G Tonks, A Strauss.
Glasgow: S Hogg; T Naiyaravoro, M Bennett, P Horne (c), T Seymour; F Russell, G Hart; R Grant, F Brown, S Puafisi, L Nakarawa, T Swinson, R Wilson, C Fusaro, A Ashe. Subs: J Malcolm, G Reid, Z Fagerson, G Peterson, S Favaro, A Price, S Johnson, L Jones.
Referee: J Lacey (IRFU).