Glasgow v Edinburgh: Warriors haven’t been out-spent, they have been out-coached

Sense of grievance amongst the Scotstoun support is understandable but Warriors have it within themsleves to redress the balance

Hamish Watson and Stuart McInally have been two key players in the Richard Cockerill revolution at Edinburgh. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson
Hamish Watson and Stuart McInally have been two key players in the Richard Cockerill revolution at Edinburgh. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

REMEMBER those two initial responses when news broke back in August 2016 that Dave Rennie was joining Glasgow Warriors as head coach? The confusion at hearing a name which only the most committed rugby anorak on this side of the equator recognised soon gave way to a firm nod of approval when a Google search revealed the New Zealander’s track record, and his history as a rugby confidante of departing golden boy Gregor Townsend.

It was almost the opposite reaction a few months later when Richard Cockerill was named as Edinburgh’s next head coach. Instant recognition of an archetypal English bulldog was soon followed by bemusement that a character who had only ever operated in the millionaire clubs of Leicester Tigers [who sacked him] and Toulon [very briefly] was being handed control of one of Scotland’s two professional rugby enterprises.

One felt like a cool, calm and calculated appointment, the other like a panic buy following the Alan Solomons flop and the continued stagnation under an interim coaching team.


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Memories are short in sport, especially when things are not going your way. There is an increasing sense of frustration visible amongst some of Warriors’ most committed supporters about a perceived east coast bias from Murrayfield, which provides a convenient scapegoat for the unfamiliar predicament their team has found itself in – playing for pride this weekend while their opponents are shooting for the stars.

The reality, as Cockerill is always quick to point out, is that Warriors continue to have a bigger budget and a deeper squad than Edinburgh. The Covid crisis has undoubtedly left them thin in some positions, most notably full-back, but they won’t get any sympathy from the man who has revolutionised the capital team’s fortunes.

“Glasgow moan about not having a full-back, they’ve got three 10s and plenty of full-backs as far as I can see,” Cockerill pointedly observed earlier today [Friday], when discussing the line-ups for this weekend’s match.

It is a fair point, if he hadn’t gone for Huw Jones at full-back this weekend then Danny Wilson (who inherited Glasgow from Rennie this summer with rather less fanfare) could have chosen from Glenn Bryce, Tommy Seymour, Rufus McLean or academy prospect Ollie Smith (who Wilson clearly likes the look of). Meanwhile, they have two established internationalists in Adam Hastings and Pete Horne at stand-off, and if all else fails they can go for Brandon Thomson, who is coming to the end of his third season at the club during which time he has made 24 appearances.

Meanwhile, along the M8, Blair Kinghorn is the only specialist full-back at the club, while the next cab off the rank at stand-off behind Jaco van der Walt is the novice Nathan Chamberlain, who impressed during the last Under-20s Six Nations but is totally inexperienced at this level (the coming season was meant to be his bedding in year before Jono Lance’s work visa fell through).

We could spend all day comparing and contrasting which specific players have come and gone in recent years and be no closer to drawing a definitive conclusion as to whether one team has been more indulged than the other. But how about these headline figures: since the summer of 2017, Edinburgh have brought in 42 players and let 52 go, while Glasgow Warriors have brought in 44 players and let 43 go.

Among those recruited by Warriors during that period are Huw Jones, Callum Gibbins, Oli Kebble, DTH van der Merwe and most recently Leone Nakarawa and Richie Gray. Those are some big names, with some pretty hefty pay-cheques. Edinburgh have, of course, also splashed the cash at times, with Matt Scott, John Barclay, Simon Hickey and Mark Bennett springing to mind as some of their more high-profile recruits. There really isn’t much in it.

Of course, the loss of Finn Russell, then Stuart Hogg, then Jonny Gray, in consecutive summers, is hard to swallow, but the last of those departures is surely offset by the return of big brother Richie. As for the other two, well, they weren’t ever going to be replaced because, to put it bluntly, they are irreplaceable. Sometimes you just have to get over it! It isn’t a case of bias, it is a case of two supremely talented players out-growing their native environment.

The real key to explaining this swing in fortunes can be found in what Cockerill has managed to do with a raft of players who were all at the club when he arrived. Rory Sutherland, Stuart McInally, WP Nel, Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist, Ben Toolis, Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Viliame Mata, Chris Dean, Blair Kinghorn and a few others have gone from a rabble of under-achievers to a unit of over-achievers during the course of three-and-a-bit years.

Similarly, Duhan van der Merwe arrived as a fine physical specimen with a chequered injury history and a lack of minutes in the saddle. Nobody at Glasgow was calling foul when he was directed towards Murrayfield rather than Scotstoun. Meanwhile, Bennett, Henry Pyrgos and Jamie Bhatti were all Glasgow rejects. This is about what Cockerill has made of the team, not what he has been given.

At the same time as Jones, Alex Dunbar and (to a slightly lesser extent) Tommy Seymour have been allowed to go off the boil at Glasgow, a raft of players have found their feet or taken on a new lease of life at Edinburgh.

You can certainly understand and sympathise with the frustration felt by Warriors fans. They had it so good for so long that it was bound to hurt when the pendulum swung the other way – but they should keep that sense of grievance in perspective. It is a pretty handy team Wilson has picked for this weekend’s match – littered with internationalists despite having 12 squad members unavailable for various reasons – and they definitely have it within them to finish this disappointing campaign with a flourish, by delivering a bloody-nose to their nearest and dearest rivals.

Glasgow are nowhere near as bad as some of the more fatalistic supporters are suggesting, and Edinburgh are nowhere near the finished article yet.

Momentum was on Edinburgh’s side before lockdown, but how much can you sustain that over a five-month break? It is at Edinburgh’s home ground, but Glasgow have access to the international team changing room, and with no fans there it will feel pretty close to a neutral venue. They have a new coach and a point to prove and nothing to lose.

Edinburgh deserve to be favourites, but this is by no means a forgone conclusion.


Murrayfield gets green-light to host fans next weekend

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About David Barnes 3033 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

6 Comments

  1. From the moment I heard of Richard Cockerill’s appointment I thought it was a great choice. He had been brought through the club ethos which Leicester had always been famed for. It was exactly what Edinburgh needed following the failing times under Solomon’s. He demands from his players and up till now they have responded. Let’s hope he can take Edinburgh on to the next level of success and entertainment. ?

  2. Was there really a lack of enthusiasm for Cockerill when Edinburgh announced his signature? I was pleased but surprised he was up for it and thought it a great coup,and I’m pretty sure most others did too.

  3. Was there really a lack of enthusiasm for Cockerill when he Edinburgh announced his signing? I was pleased but surprised he was up for it and thought it a great coup,and I’m pretty sure most others did too.

  4. the pendulum swings. That was always going to happen, question is when. Glasgow gained ascendancy by being underdogs who trained and played hard, focussed and knowing they needed to earn their way. At the same time Edinburgh farted about full of entitlement (train at the national stadium, get picked for Scotland, simples) that had gone on for far too long. Stay on the Edinburgh team(and often the Scotland team) as long as you can walk without the aid of a stick. The Hadden legacy

    Now Glasgow have reached few league finals, and loads of SFs but have won only one, and disappointed in europe. Hardly a dynastic club like Leicester were, but like Leicester finding nothing lasts for ever. They are not a poor side but signing an older injury prone Gray and Nakawara on a 1 year deal who is still in fiji and will play for Fiji for 2 months if/when he gets back is more about fan appeasement than building a team for the future.

    Glasgow fans have reason to feel aggrieved though, as Edinburgh continue to plunder their squad and Scotland take their coaching staff. And those with long memories remember Glasgow’s chief exec being sent to NZ to sign up Todd Blackadder (and he did). Only for Blackadder to be allocated to Edinburgh to bail out that man Hadden again

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  5. I can’t believe rugby’s back, its been a long time between drinks. The fact its a derby and there’s a lot riding on this makes it even more interesting. I’m sure there will be plenty of rustiness early doors but who cares how it plays out, I’m just happy and excited that its back.

  6. I normally enjoy the articles on this website but this just comes across as a rant about a bit of a rant.

    Describing Pyrgos and Bennett as Glasgow rejects is way off the mark. The former in particular as he was a hugely popular figure at the club and as far as I know no one at Glasgow wanted him to leave. It basically looked like Cockerill moaned about the scrum half imbalance and got Pyrgos shifted over, only to be replaced by the vastly inferior Frisby. Pyrgos was probably 3rd choice when he left but actually played 40 minutes in his last game for Glasgow and with Price out of form and Horne still very raw he could’ve easily found himself first choice the following year. Even if not, he would still have played a lot of games as Horne and Price were on international duty. There are very similar parallels to the Edinburgh back row situation now and given the Pyrgos situation it would surely have made sense for Crosbie to move across to get more game time, especially given Darge and Boyle have been signed up with Sykes and Carmichael apparently expected to play in the back row too.

    Seymour is 32 and it’s natural he’s declined somewhat, Dunbar had terrible injury trouble. I expect Richie to do well but he’s 31 in a couple of days and hasn’t played much in recent years through injury. Even if he can stay fit he might not be the player he was.

    At full back I think Bryce deserves a crack but otherwise it’s not hugely different to the Edinburgh 10 situation. Behind him there is Smith or McLean, who are both as experienced or inexperienced as Chamberlain. If Seymour can play full back then Kinghorn can play 10. They’re both first choice in their position and putting them elsewhere would weaken them elsewhere. Cockerill mentioned it wasn’t ideal having Chamberlain 2nd choice, Wilson says he’d have liked a full back, is there much difference. Cockerill speaking about it is pretty hypocritical and unprofessional tbh but I realise he’s just trying to stir things up.

    There’s no doubt he’s done a good job improving the squad but as for actual performances I don’t really rate Edinburgh highly at all. They were impressive v Scarlets last year but otherwise it was mainly a case of grinding out wins v pretty average teams which given the players at their disposal is fine but nothing to shout about. The year before they were impressive in Europe but the league threw up a huge number of atrocious displays, mainly as his “pick the best team whenever I can” mantra left all his backup players extremely lacking in match sharpness whenever they played during the internationals.

    A lot of Glasgow fans are way too hysterical about the situation but given the SRU tried to give Edinburgh an extra home game every year, shifted Pyrgos over and haven’t done the same thing with Edinburgh’s back row and now are playing both these games at Murrayfield with Edinburgh fans seemingly allowed in for the latter it’s easy to see why fans of Glasgow are getting annoyed with how the game is run.

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