Glasgow v Edinburgh preview: pressure builds as play-off hopes hang in balance

Warriors coach Dave Rennie confident his team have improved since losing twice to Edinburgh in December

1872 Cup
Darcy Graham and James Johnstone tackle Tommy Seymour during the last 1872 Cup clash back in December. Image: ©Craig Watson

IF Glasgow are to get the result they need against Edinburgh tonight to ensure a home PRO14 semi-final, they will need to ensure that the predictable becomes the preventable.

When the teams met twice in December, the Warriors knew exactly what Edinburgh’s approach was going to be – keep it tight up front and kick for position – but on both occasions they came off second best. Dave Rennie is convinced that his starting line-up for this third 1872 Cup game of the season is stronger than the previous two, and that his squad are in better form than they were around the turn of the year. All the same, the Warriors head coach expects Edinburgh to be a real handful.

“There are players in the mix who weren’t before,” Rennie said. “Fraser Brown, Zander, Scott Cummings – those guys didn’t play in those games around that time. We’ve certainly got a better team on the paddock and I think we’re playing better footy.

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“We just didn’t play well enough [in December], and to be honest for a month around that time we weren’t playing very well. We were pretty average against Lyon at home in the sleet and snow, we then lost two in a row to Edinburgh and then we lost to Treviso the following week. I guess we had our flat patch in the middle and we’ve been a lot better since then. We’re well aware that they’re a good side and they’ve got a certain game that can shake you, so we need to be really strong around our high-ball reception and you’ve got to limit your errors and set-piece will need to go well.

“We know how they’re going to play, that’s for sure. The advantage they’ll have is they’ll know what they’ll need to do [to get into the play-offs], or if there’s any chance at all. Regardless, we know they’ll bring plenty whether they’re in the race or not.”

Capital challenge

If Benetton win at Zebre earlier today, Edinburgh will no longer be able to finish third in Conference B and get into the quarter-finals. Their fight then will be to ensure the fourth-place finish that takes them into a play-off against the fourth team in Conference A – currently Ospreys – for the PRO14’s last place in next season’s Champions Cup. Presuming Scarlets take five points from their match with Dragons, only a bonus-point win will be enough for Richard Cockerill’s side.

We’ve got it all to do, but it should be a good contest,” the Edinburgh coach said. “The scoring four tries part is that you can do that in lots of ways. Scrum or lineout drives or pick and goes.

“We have to control the game. If we need to score four, we will score one, then more and so on. It’s not that from the first minute we’ll wing it from side to side and have a crack, as that will suit the opposition more than us. We will still play our structure and it may mean we take kicks to corners rather than kick for threes. It will be a great contest.

“They need to win for an easier passage to the final as they say. There’s as much pressure on Glasgow as ourselves. It will be interesting to see who deals with that pressure best.

“They’re a good enough team to win the competition, there’s no doubt about that. But a bit like ourselves on the big occasion they haven’t always performed in the last couple of years.

“They went to Saracens [in the Champions Cup quarter-final] and had a massive game there and again couldn’t deliver, so there are question marks around their psyche as well. It will be interesting to have both teams test their psyche around playing these big games you have to win. It’ll be a big test for both pro teams and Scottish rugby as a whole, about our players stepping up and performing on the big stage.”

Centre of attention

Cockerill has relegated Mark Bennett to the bench and omitted Matt Scott altogether, preferring the centre partnership of James Johnstone and Chris Dean that has served him well for the bulk of the season. Those two will team up with stand-off Simon Hickey, who takes over from the injured Jaco van der Walt and who Cockerill thinks has greater tactical nous than the man he replaces. Dougie Fife comes in for the injured Damien Hoyland in the fourth change to the back division that began Edinburgh’s last outing, the loss to Ulster, but the most significant change is the only one in the pack, where John Barclay starts at blindside in place of Magnus Bradbury.

With Hamish Watson and Bill Mata at 7 and 8, and Bradbury poised to come off the bench, Edinburgh look like having a distinct advantage in that area of the game against a Warriors side that starts with Rob Harley, Thomas Gordon and Matt Fagerson. Granted, Ryan Wilson and Tevita Tameilau are both on the Warriors bench, but Gordon in particular will have to excel himself if his team are to hold their own in the battle at the breakdown.

The Warriors squad are confident that they have become more resilient in defence over the last couple of games, and that they can compete on equal terms in the arm-wrestle with their Scottish rivals. If they are right, they should just shade what will surely be a tense and tetchy contest.

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About Stuart Bathgate 1415 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.