Richie Gray is Glasgow Warriors’ leading man but they could now lose him
Reflecting on the turgid nature of the first 1872 Cup clash, the Edinburgh coach had scoffed at the notion that he and Glasgow counterpart Danny Wilson had a duty to serve up better fare second time around.
But that is precisely what they did.
Saturday’s renewal in Glasgow’s west end had drama to satisfy all; five tries, a nailbiting finale, the emergence of new young talent, the return of an old hero and, most bizarrely, a key intervention from a passing train driver.
There was also a confusing final act in which Glasgow chased an extra three points in the mistaken notion that it would win them the 1872 Cup on aggregate. The inter-city dust-up is a best-of-three affair and Glasgow’s series-levelling 23-22 win means the contest will be settled by a third match later in the season.
For Wilson, this was a particularly satisfying result. The Warriors coach has endured a tough first season in which he has been deprived of his best players for all but a handful of games. He knows the Six Nations is looming and his squad will be raided once again but for this weekend at least he can bask in a victory that lifted Glasgow off the bottom of Conference A and into fourth place as they chase a European place.
Having been destroyed in the scrum in the first 1872 Cup match, Glasgow redressed the balance at Scotstoun and how they enjoyed it.
Prop Aki Seiuli had been the fall guy at Murrayfield, outmuscled and outwitted by WP Nel as Edinburgh won 10-7. But with the South African tighthead starting on the bench, Seiuli and the Glasgow pack bossed the set-piece in the first half, setting the tone by winning two early scrum penalties, one of which allowed the impressive Ross Thompson to kick a three-pointer.
Richie Gray, in his second game back after a long concussion lay-off, was in fine form, imperious in the lineout and a major presence throughout.
“He’s been outstanding,” Wilson said of the lock. “Our lineout functioned really well in both games, which is pleasing.
“The other pleasing part, which Ritchie contributes to, is the turnaround in the scrum. It was the same personnel there because Oli Kebble didn’t make the game, so credit to Aki because he was way better than he was in the last game.
“To beat Edinburgh you have to have your set-piece in order because you know theirs is decent. We won that battle and that helped us get the win.”
Gray’s fine form is something of a double-edged sword for Wilson. The big man will be in Gregor Townsend’s thoughts as he prepares to name his Six Nations squad on Wednesday and if Gray is included the Warriors could be deprived of his services for most of the remainder of the Pro14 season.
“I have had conversations with Gregor,” said Wilson as he contemplated losing his international contingent for February and March. “Obviously, Gregor has his plans in place and there is still a bit of uncertainty about the Six Nations generally and what the rules and regulations are going to be.
“I am anticipating that there will be chunks of time when players are kept together, though maybe not in as big a squad. That’s my hope. But we’ll have to wait and see.”
A further boost for Wilson was the appearance of Leone Nakarawa as a second-half substitute. It was the former European player of the year’s first outing in 11 months and the Fijian could have a major role as the season plays out.
Glasgow’s bright start at Scotstoun was in danger of being derailed when Jamie Farndale finished off a fine passing move to put Edinburgh ahead three minutes before half-time.
The home side were down to 14 men at that point as George Turner cooled his heels in the sin-bin after dipping his shoulder into Grant Gilchrist’s midriff and Farndale made the most of Edinburgh’s numerical advantage to dot down.
Jaco van der Walt’s conversion put the capital side 10-6 ahead and they looked like they would be going in at the break with their tails up. But Glasgow were able to trim the interval deficit with the help of the horn of a passing train.
Nic Groom, the Edinburgh scrum-half, mistook the driver’s toot for the half-time buzzer and booted the ball into touch with 30 seconds still left on the clock. That mistake gave Thompson the chance to kick his third penalty and swing the momentum back in Glasgow’s favour.
Warriors were now the team on the charge and they scored two tries inside the first 11 minutes of the second half. Matt Fagerson got the first, smashing over after some patient build-up play before the returning Turner barged through from a driven lineout following a yellow card for van der Walt.
Edinburgh hit back immediately with a nicely worked try from a lineout. Dave Cherry did the hard yards before Hamish Watson released Chris Dean to score under the posts.
Glasgow then had to see out the final five minutes a man down when Huw Jones was next to be shown yellow for illegally slowing an Edinburgh attack.
The visitors kept coming and winger Eroni Sau set up a grandstand finish as he scored in the corner to reduce Glasgow’s advantage to a single point with 90 seconds left. Van der Walt had the chance to win it from the left touchline but his conversion sailed wide.
That should have been that, but Glasgow kept attacking, chasing the mythical aggregate win. They won a penalty but Thompson kicked it wide in the final play of the game, the only blemish on an otherwise impressive performance from the stand-off who was making his first start. He kicked 13 points and was a worthy man of the match.