NOT too long ago, Edinburgh’s only realistic hope of beating Glasgow was to grind out a forwards-based game: denying their dangerous backs the ball by getting the better of their less potent pack. But times have changed, and Richard Cockerill’s team are now increasingly confident that they can win in a variety of ways.
The pack remains vital, of course, and if Edinburgh think they have the edge up front you can be sure they will try to exploit it today [Saturday], when they meet the Warriors at Murrayfield in the first of the season’s three 1872 Cup games. But they now have powerful backs out wide, such as South African winger Duhan van der Merwe; an increasingly menacing counter-attacker in full-back Blair Kinghorn; and a potential match-winner to bring off the bench in Darcy Graham.
For Grant Gilchrist, as a lock the priority as always is to get dominance in the set piece, and the battle that he and Ben Toolis will have with Jonny Gray and Scott Cummings is sure to be a fascinating one. But the 27-year-old knows that other parts of the team can now share the burden when it comes to gaining the upper hand, and is sure his team will display a tactical versatility that was beyond them until fairly recently.
“As front-five forwards we always want to scrum and maul; that’s our bread and butter,” he said. “But it’s about having a balance to your game. We’ll look at other areas too.
“I think it’s different to a few years ago where we went into these games and maybe we weren’t playing as much as we are now. We were maybe going into these games with a scrum-and-maul focus, but we’re different now. We’re a far more rounded team and we’ll have more to show than that.”
Gilchrist knows that, as Cockerill said earlier this week, this match constitutes a challenge to Edinburgh to build on what they have done well over the previous few outings. Beating the Southern Kings and the Ospreys, London Irish and Krasny Yar, is all well and good, and the professionalism with which they did so was a key indication of how much progress they have made in their first six months under Cockerill. But beating Glasgow will require a lot more than merely professionalism: a look at the Warriors’ record in the PRO14 – 10 games played, 10 games won – will tell you that.
“It’s about us just building on the performances of the last eight to 10 weeks,” Gilchrist added. “We’re progressing quite nicely, but we understand that this weekend is a massive step up with the calibre of opposition. It’s a really good test.
“I think any victory against a team that has gone 10 from 10 would be amazing for us. But it doesn’t really affect us, how they’re going: It would still be a massive game even if they hadn’t been on that run, but again it shows you the size of the challenge.”
That unbeaten record, of course, is only one aspect of Glasgow’s season so far: the other is their disappointing display in Europe, where they have lost all four of their Champions Cup pool matches so far, including home-and-away defeats by Montpellier over the last two weekends. Edinburgh have had contrasting fortunes in that fortnight, beating Irish 50-20 then running up a record 78 points against Krasny Yar, but Gilchrist is loath to read too much into that.
“It’s hard to compare. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves: the last two weeks aren’t really applicable to this game. We’ve played well – but we’ve not been playing Montpellier home and away. That’s a whole different kettle of fish. We can only speak for us. The boys have been playing well; confidence is high. I don’t think it makes a big difference that they’ve lost two games against really high-quality opposition.”
Meanwhile, winger Dougie Fife and centre James Johnstone have become the latest Edinburgh players to sign new deals with the team. Both men, who have been available this season by agreement with the Scotland Sevens squad, have signed full-time two-year contracts.