The resumption of inter-city rivalry between Edinburgh and Glasgow at this time of year always stirs memories of the old Reds v Blues trial match and once again there will be a number of intriguing battles with the start of the Six Nations just over a month away.
Arguably one of the most interesting at BT Murrayfield tomorrow (kick-off 5.10pm) will come in the key position of scrum-half where a player who would not long ago have been viewed as an unlikely holder of a Scotland No. 9 jersey goes up against the man who a couple of years ago was being viewed as Greig Laidlaw’s heir apparent.
The former is Glasgow’s Ali Price who has seized on Laidlaw’s injuries and Lions involvement to become a Test regular this year and the latter is Edinburgh’s Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, who has not played for Scotland since the 2016 Six Nations. Hidalgo-Clyne’s drift out of the international reckoning was made even more stark when Gregor Townsend selected clubmate Nathan Fowles ahead of him for his autumn Test squad.
Now Hidalgo-Clyne has the opportunity tomorrow to go head to head with his fellow 24-year-old Price, who has swept past the Edinburgh man’s caps total in quick time and put himself in the position of being a good bet to retain the Scotland jersey when the Six Nations opens in Cardiff at the start of February.
“There will be a good battle between Sam [Hidalgo-Clyne] and Ali, so I’m looking forward to that,” said Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill after naming his team, with Fowles on the bench.
After bursting on to the Scotland scene as Laidlaw’s understudy in the 2015 Six Nations and being selected for the World Cup squad, Hidalgo-Clyne has found himself locked in a threeway battle for his Edinburgh spot with Fowles and Sean Kennedy. Some impressive performances this season seem to have nudged him back in front. “I think he has applied himself really well and has been sharp when he’s played,” added Cockerill. “For this game Sam is the right person to start. Nathan Fowles has been in good form as well but they are a bit different.
“Sam is very aggressive in defence and he is sharp around the fringes. We need his service to be as good as it can be on Saturday. He has just swayed selection on form at the moment but it is very tight.
“Sam has a huge amount of natural ability. He is a very competitive player and I want him to be very competitive with Ali Price on Saturday night. It’s a big game for Sam because he wants to push himself into the international reckoning. He has a shop window now to show how good he is.”
There had been hopes that Scotland centre Mark Bennett could have made his Edinburgh debut against his former club after a ten-month knee injury but the game has come too soon, admitted the coach. “We put him into consideration for selection, but Mark’s not played any rugby in ten months, so I think the right thing for us and for him at this point is for him not to start, not to be involved,” he explained. “I don’t think he’s ready, because he hasn’t played, simple as that. I’ve got no problems around him as a player or as a person, it’s just that it’s a game that came too soon.”
Asked if he could be in contention for the second match next weekend, Cockerill said: “I will see. Let’s see what Saturday brings. If the lads perform and do well, then it’s unlikely. If it’s a disaster, then we’ll see what happens.”
Cockerill was unfazed by Glasgow’s decision to start Peter Horne ahead of Finn Russell at stand-off.
“Look, he [Russell] is a very, very good player, but so’s Peter Horne,” said Cockerill. “They’re both Test 10s. Finn’s leaving at the end of the year, so [Glassgow coach] Dave [Rennie] will pick who he wants to pick.
“But they’re a good side across the board: I’ve got no doubts around that. They’ve got a few injuries in that back five, we’ve got a few injuries in the front row. Consistently they’ve been a better side than us for the last five or six years.”
Looking at the make up of the Scotland squad, some may categorise this as a battle between Edinburgh’s forwards and Glasgow’s backs. Cockerill is wary of the Warriors’ threat out wide but hopes the more expansive style he has been pioneering in the Capital can be showcased.
“We’ve got to make sure that our first-up tackles are very good. Our defence with Calum MacRae has been very good this year,” said Cockerill. “We’ve got to be very physical on the gain line, and we’ve got to stop them playing with momentum. No different to them with us.
“We want to play ball in hand as well. It’s not just them who will be a threat ball in hand: we’ve got some good players – I think we’ve got a very good ball-carrying forward pack. We’ve certainly got some threat in that back line.”
Edinburgh: Blair Kinghorn; Dougie Fife, James Johnstone, Phil Burleight, Duhan van der Merwe; Jaco van der Walt, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne; Rory Sutherland, Stuart McInally (c), Simon Berghan, Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist, Viliame Mata, Hamish Watson, Cornell du Preez. Subs: 16 Neil Cochrane, 17 Murray McCallum, 18 Matt Shields, 19 Fraser McKenzie, 20 Jamie Ritchie, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Chris Dean, 23 Darcy Graham
Glasgow: Ruaridh Jackson; Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Alex Dunbar, Lee Jones; Peter Horne, Ali Price; Jamie Bhatti, Fraser Brown, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray (c), Robert Harley, Matt Smith, Samu Vunisa. Subs: 16. Pat MacArthur, 17. Oli Kebble, 18. Siua Halanukonuka, 19. Kiran McDonald, 20. Chris Fusaro, 21. Henry Pyrgos, 22. Finn Russell, 23. Niko Matawalu
Murrayfield Wanderers face West of Scotland
Murrayfield Wanderers will play a friendly against old rivals West of Scotland as a curtain raiser to Saturday’s first 1872 Cup match, kicking off celebrations for the 150th anniversary of one of Scotland’s oldest clubs – Edinburgh Wanderers.
Wanderers, formed in 1868, merged with Murrayfield RFC in 1997 and are currently playing in National League 3.
Edinburgh Wanderers v West of Scotland is a long standing fixture which can be traced back to the 1870s between the traditional open sides of the country’s two main cities. Players from Wanderers and West were prominent in the first Edinburgh v Glasgow game in 1872.
Wanderers old and new as well as friends of the club are invited to the clubhouse at 1pm when celebrations will be formally launched by the 150th Ambassadors, Alan Lawson and Ian Rankin, each former SRU Presidents and captains of the club.
The game will kick-off on the back pitches at 2pm. The launch and the match are free to attend and anyone interested should email firstname.lastname@example.org