HAVING played more games for Glasgow than anyone else in the team’s history, Rob Harley has accumulated a depth of experience that is the envy of his colleagues. And that experience tells him that the 1872 Cup match against Edinburgh is more than just another 80 minutes of rugby. A lot more.
Harley has won some and lost some in the fixture, the latest instalment of which will be played out at Scotstoun on Friday night. And as far as he is concerned, the derby is all about fighting for his city.
It is a feeling that the 31-year-old believes is already shared by those newcomers to Danny Wilson’s squad who will be taking part in the match for the first time. That could include summer signings such as New Zealander Josh McKay and Australian international Jack Dempsey, along with more recent recruits like Tongan cap Walter Fifita. Harley has seen those three and other relatively fresh arrivals adapt quickly to the team’s ethos, and believes that is one reason why the Warriors are competing towards the top of the URC, where they are equal on points with their Scottish rivals going into this match at Scotstoun.
“They get it,” the back-row forward said. “That’s been a strength of ours – that we’ve built that cohesion in the squad. The new guys coming in from overseas, they buy into it really quickly and they get it.
“When we play against Edinburgh, we’re representing the city of Glasgow. Anyone who is lucky enough to pull on the jersey knows they are fighting for the city.
“It’s something Danny spoke about earlier this week. He said that when he came on board as Scotland forwards coach a few years ago, he very quickly got the sense that Glasgow versus Edinburgh isn’t just another game.
“This is the biggest game on the calendar. The guys in the squad know this is a special week for us. They can sense that this is a bit different from a normal game.”
Another lesson that Hartley has drawn from his wealth of experience is that in this game as in no other it is vital to avoid getting carried away by the occasion. The levels of aggression and energy may be even higher than usual, but for him that makes it all the more important to channel them properly.
“The occasion of it, the Glasgow versus Edinburgh derby, makes it huge,” he continued. “You talk about getting under people’s skin and the tension is a little bit higher. The pressure is higher than normal games.
“You might see that sometimes spill over. Both teams will be looking to bring as much aggression as possible, but also to control that in the right way. That’s the challenge.
“It’s easy in these games to let the occasion get to you and for it to spill over the top. But you have to use all that aggression and make sure you use it in the right way.
“Even with the crowd, it’s a different level of noise and energy. Having the experience of being there a lot over the years certainly helps. It’s important to try and impart some of that experience and knowledge on to the new players during the week in the build-up to the game.”
The difference on Friday compared to usual 1872 Cup matches is that, with Scotland’s game against Ireland taking place just a day later, both sides will be without some of their key contributors. Harley knows that could take a bit of getting used to both for his team, but is confident that the commitment to the cause will be as fierce as ever. “It will be a challenge for both teams with players missing,” he conceded. “I know guys in both camps will have mixed feelings.
‘You want to be involved for Scotland and have the honour of pulling on the jersey. But those guys will be really hurting at missing this game as well. For the guys who do play, there will be a lot of intensity this weekend.”
Across the country, meanwhile, Edinburgh scrum-half Henry Pyrgos has some advice of his own for those of his team-mates who will be playing in their first 1872 Cup match. Besides advising them to be prepared for some hostility from the Scotstoun stands, the former Warriors No 9 insisted that it was also a fixture that because of its special nature should be relished by everyone who takes part in it.
“Enjoy it: it’s really good,” he said when asked what he would say to the likes of Emiliano Boffelli, Ramiro Moyano and Henry Immelman in order to prepare them for their first outings in the 1872 Cup. “It’s one of the great places in our league to play. It will be really noisy – the Glasgow fans are always very vocal and get right behind their team. It’s a great place to play. You want to go over there and win: you don’t want to lose.
“Prepare for probably quite a hostile atmosphere – it usually is over there, which is great – that’s what you want to play in these games for. But also enjoy it, embrace the occasion. If you get the chance to play in the 1872 Cup, certainly enjoy it, and hopefully it will be one you can look back on with fond memories.”
Having been a member of both squads, Pyrgos has seen team-mates prepare for the derby in a variety of different ways – some deciding to give their rivals the silent treatment before kick-off, others deciding to acknowledge their opposite numbers as friends and colleagues. “We’ve had comments [such as] ‘I’m not going to speak to them before the game’,” the 32-year-old added. “The guys on both teams know each other really well and I think most of the guys get on well off the pitch – a lot of them play with the national team.
“But ultimately it doesn’t really matter what happens before the game – you can be as friendly as you want. It’s important that when the game kicks off you’re ready to go and are really switched on to what your job is.”