No player in either the Glasgow or Edinburgh rugby squads who meet at Firhill on New Year’s Day will know visiting coach Michael Bradley quite like Troy Nathan.
The New Zealand-born centre spent three years at Connacht while Bradley was coach before moving across the Irish Sea last summer to Glasgow around the same time as his partial mentor headed for the Capital.
So, when Nathan warns team-mates to take nothing for granted regarding the destination of the 1872 Cup that will be at stake over the two legs of this fixture following a 23-23 draw at Murrayfield last Monday, he speaks with a particular insight based on familiarity with how Bradley operates.
The former All Blacks youth cap says: “Michael was the guy who got me to Connacht where I felt privileged to be part of his teams. He understands the game really well and is especially good at providing an instant reaction [to events on the pitch]. He knows how to work on the hoof as a coach, feeding information on to the players in the heat of the action.” This is borne out by the fact that in two key Heineken European Cup ties this season Edinburgh have found themselves trailing at the interval – 16-19 at London Irish and 20-31 against Racing Metro – only to turn things around and claim victory.
Nathan adds: “I was also impressed by the fact Michael has taken the Irish national side on tour and his attention to detail. It is absolutely certain Michael will have spent time since Monday’s match at Murrayfield studying the Glasgow team in the finest detail.”
The 28-year-old Nathan hails from the same part of New Zealand as the great Jonah Lomu – both players had spells with the Counties provincial side that, coincidentally, was also the domain of Glasgow coach Sean Lineen – which makes another aspect of his recollections of Monday’s derby clash at Murrayfield all the more revealing.
Nathan grew up watching local hero Lomu – “shaving the number 11 into the eyebrow the way Jonah did was all the rage amongst my friends” he says – whose rampaging style prompted Edinburgh scrum half Mike Blair to draw an intriguing comparison with the way in which his wing colleague Tim Visser is currently carving open defences. Specifically, Blair remarked that Visser’s ability to keep his balance to stumble over the line for a try after being tap-tackled yards out was reminiscent of a famous Lomu touchdown against England in the 1995 World Cup semi-final. Nathan acknowledges the comparison between these two tries and says: “Tim is huge, quick and elusive. As to how closely he resembles Jonah in style I’d say he’s getting there.
“When he becomes available for Scotland next year he is going to be a major asset and that’s when he’ll come closest to providing a comparison.”
Alas for Edinburgh the two-try haul by Visser, who is actually the same height (6ft 5in) but four stones lighter than Lomu at his peak, could not provide a win and Troy Nathan does turn temporarily bullish when insisting that momentum now favours Glasgow on account of their late try brace to force a draw.
However, despite capitalising on Edinburgh’s occasional difficulties in holding a lead to twice come back from ten points down, a share of the spoils was regarded as unsatisfactory in the Glasgow camp. “When we had a penalty to win the game from far out in the final play there was a pretty serious debate before we took that goal-kick,” said Nathan, who is qualified to play for Ireland as a result of his time in the Emerald Isle.
“There was a case for keeping the ball alive as a better option for the win even though we knew we could be risking Edinburgh breaking out of defence and scoring.
“Sean Lineen was quite disappointed we didn’t win but a key moment for me was when we held out Edinburgh when they came looking for a second try after only five minutes. Had Edinburgh scored a second then I think we could have been in serious trouble but we held firm.
“Everything is in the balance ahead of Sunday which I think is going to be a fantastic occasion given the fact the fixture is the oldest representative one in rugby.
“It is going to be brutal with Edinburgh guaranteed to come back at us twice as hard.”
Meanwhile, Bradley has changed all but two of his team for Sunday’s match, only Kyle Traynor and Netani Talei retaining their places from the Boxing Day clash at Murrayfield.