THERE was not much clarity this afternoon on the implications for Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors of the most recent set of Covid restrictions announced by the Scottish Government, however it was clear that postponing this festive season’s 1872 Cup double-header is not going to be an option, unless the virus infiltrates one of the squads (as it has done already with the URC Boxing Day matches featuring the Ospreys versus Dragons and Munster versus Leinster).
“Ultimately, we’ll do what we’re told to do by the organisers, but the difficult thing with a rugby season is that it’s pretty condensed now,” explained Edinburgh head coach Mike Blair. “We’ve got the Six Nations in there, we’ve got Europe, we’ve got play-offs, so you can’t really pre-plan when there is going to be scope to get these games played – there are so many moving parts.”
Ticket sales for the second-leg of this inter-city clash, at Murrayfield on 2nd January, were tracking well for a bigger crowd than the record 27,437 which attended the equivalent match in 2019, but now that the total attendance, including players and other essential match-day staff, is limited to just 500, Blair acknowledged that moving away from the international bowl to the DAM Health Stadium – Edinburgh’s custom-built venue – might be a sensible option in terms of both cost and giving his team a greater sense of home advantage.
“It’s something we’re talking about,” he confirmed. “We had 25,000-odd tickets sold for that [playing at Murrayfield], but now these discussions are ongoing.”
Meanwhile, Glasgow Warriors head coach Danny Wilson said he would like to see some fans being given access to the first leg, at Scotstoun on Monday, even if it is just a few hundred. “I understand there’s a business side of this to be settled,” he said. “There’s a cost to putting on games and that cost is met by full houses. I need to get after this and up to speed as to how the business and commercial side is looking at that.”
A statement from Glasgow Warriors managing director Al Kellock a few hours later was not too promising on that front, with supporters warned that the game will be “for all intents and purposes spectator-free”.
However the situation is handled, there was a Dunkirk spirit exhibited by both head coaches as they looked ahead to a fairly bleak period for their clubs, which will inevitably take some of the shine off recent achievements.
“The atmosphere we had in that big European game at the weekend does make a difference, but we’ll just have to get on with it and deal with what it is,” shrugged Wilson.
“I can only revert to where we were the end of last season. We won some big games with no crowds. We created our own atmosphere and that’ll be our aim again. It’s not going to be a shock to the system.”
“One big plus about this week is that we have a nine-day turnaround and we don’t get that very often,” he added. “If it were another six-day turnaround it would be nigh-on impossible to pick the same team or thereabouts. There are individual situations to deal with whether that’s injury or Covid isolations so that will make changes to both squads, but having the longer turnaround allows us to have some hard days training, a couple of well-deserved days off to get away from it, and then come back in fresh.
“Derbies and Europe are when you want to be picking your best team. I’m sure that we will mix it up and add a few squad members to try and bolster and build our squad, but these are the biggest game of the year and you want to be as strong as you can be for those games.”
Blair took a similar view: “I’ve been really impressed with the resilience we have shown in difficult circumstances – with players pulling out of games against tough opposition at the last minute and the team still finding a way to win – so my expectation is that these guys are going to rise to the occasion and show their resilience again to put out a really good performance against Glasgow.”
He added that he doesn’t expect the fact the European Challenge Cup draw gave his team last weekend off, while Glasgow played a hugely physical but morale-boosting match against Exeter Chiefs, to be a significant factor in how Monday’s match plays out.
“It has been nice to take stock a little bit, the teams playing last week have been under a little bit of pressure Covid-wise about whether they could get the game on, and who would play, while we were able to take some time away and refresh ourselves before getting back into things this week,” he said.
“So, hopefully it will work for us, but Glasgow will say that the fact they got a game means they will be more battle-hardened and potentially better equipped from that side.
“I don’t think it will have too much to do with the result, in the end.”