Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill has challenged Glasgow’s forwards to prove they really have toughened up their act enough to get the better of his pack in this evening’s 1872 Cup opener at BT Murrayfield.
Up front has been seen as an area where Cockerill’s team have had an edge in recent years and the Scotland pack has become even more Edinburgh heavy in the past year.
Glasgow were stung a bit at the start of the season when doubts were cast over their forwards’ ability to get on top in the really big games. However, big performances against the likes of Munster and in Europe have seen the Warriors’ big men puff their chests out, which has Cockerill licking his lips at the scent of “battle”.
The former England hooker conceded that, on paper, Edinburgh do boast more of the Scotland pack, but added: “Yes but we’ve still got to do it.
“We’ll see what the weather brings. Hopefully there will be a bit of rain. It will be cold and they won’t like it.
“We’re going to go hard up front but all I keep hearing is how tough they are this year.”
In the summer Glasgow’s head of strengthening Stuart Yule gave details of a pre-season regime inspired by the training of ancient Spartan warriors, with footage of players wrestling posted on social media.
Cockerill said: “They’ve been to a fight club in pre-season and they’re all now really hard. We’ll see. They’ll come and test us and we’ll stand toe to toe and trade blow for blow. We’re looking forward to the challenge. We’re a good side too. Derby matches are derby matches, we’ve got to roll our sleeves up and see where we get to.”
Since arriving in Scotland, the combative Englishman has enjoyed stirring the pot ahead of these derby encounters in a way which hasn’t been seen before for a match in which, essentially, the players are all on the SRU payroll.
Nevertheless, Cockerill was still determined that the 1872 Cup holders retain that precious underdog tag.
“It is always better to be the underdog isn’t it?” said the coach with a smile. “They [Glasgow] are the ones that score the nice tries, that are top of their conference, they are the ones that score 4.4 tries on average, the most line-breaks the most pin-up boys so we will give them the favourites tag.
“If they can’t cope with that then that is up to them.”
Cockerill has made just one change to the team who won 21-8 at Newcastle Falcons last week, with Pierre Schoeman replacing Allan Dell at loosehead.
“We have a settled team,” said Cockerill. “Some of our depth is not available because of injury, there is a bit of rotation around loosehead and tighthead replacement but the rest is pretty much what we have got.
“We have a tough run of games, if we had more players fit in that back five of the scrum we might have looked at using depth there but we haven’t got them and probably our first choice centres are missing.
“Missing the quality of Matty Scott and Mark Bennett is not perfect but [Chris] Dean and [James] Johnstone have done a great job. That is the best team, the best 23 we can pick, and we go into battle.”
Cockerill revealed that Scotland centre Matt Scott will remain under Head Injury Assessment protocols for the time being. “He might be another two or three weeks,” he reported. “Concussion is something no-one knows enough about. It’s something unique to each individual. We’ve got to manage that properly.
“It’s an opportunity for Chris and Jimmy who played very well last year but they’ll have to continue to be on the top of their game to contain what is a threatening backline.”
Edinburgh have won three of the past four 1872 Cups but this time face the challenge of coming into the festive derbies from the same elite level in Europe as their rivals.
“The good teams I’ve played in or coached, players have to back up and they have to play big game after big game,” said Cockerill. “You can’t play a couple of big games and have a week off, it’s not how the real world works. We manage our training week, the boys are well prepared, we’ve very motivated to get the league points first and also play our nearest and dearest.
“The lads have to back it up, this is what it’s all about, this is where you build resilience and the tough men stand on, fight their corner and earn their money. That’s just how it is.”
Edinburgh: 15, Blair Kinghorn; 14, Darcy Graham, 13, James Johnstone, 12, Chris Dean, 11, Duhan van der Merwe; 10, Jaco van der Walt, 9, Henry Pyrgos; 1, Pierre Schoeman, 2, Stuart McInally (c), 3, WP Nel, 4, Ben Toolis, 5, Grant Gilchrist, 6, Luke Hamilton, 7, Hamish Watson, 8, Bill Mata. Subs: 16. David Cherry; 17. Allan Dell; 18. Pietro Ceccarelli; 19. Callum Hunter-Hill; 20. Luke Crosbie; 21. Nathan Fowles; 22. Simon Hickey; 23. Juan Pablo Socino.
Glasgow: 15, Stuart Hogg; 14, Tommy Seymour, 13, Nick Grigg, 12, Peter Horne, 11, DTH van der Merwe; 10, Adam Hastings, 9, George Horne; 8, Matt Fagerson, 7, Callum Gibbins (c), 6, Adam Ashe, 5, Jonny Gray, 4, Rob Harley, 3, Siua Halanukonuka, 2, Grant Stewart, 1, Oli Kebble. Subs: 16. Kevin Bryce, 17. Jamie Bhatti, 18. D’Arcy Rae (52), Tim Swinson, 20. Chris Fusaro; 21. Ali Price; 22. Huw Jones; 23. Niko Matawalu.