AT their best, Glasgow are capable of overwhelming any team in the league with their attacking flair, and have perfected the happy habit of scoring more tries than their opponents even if they concede two or three themselves. But against the most solid teams – those, that is, who play a tighter, more structured game – they can continue to look vulnerable. And Edinburgh, it has to be said, are one of those teams.
It would be hard to make a coherent case for Edinburgh being a better side than Glasgow – indeed, it would be impossible if your prime criterion were the teams’ respective record over the course of the PRO14 season. Nonetheless, it would be fair to say that Richard Cockerill’s side have at least become an outfit who know how to beat the Warriors. Eight wins in the last 10 1872 Cup games – two out of two so far this season – demonstrate that much.
And that record hints at the main challenge facing Glasgow at Scotstoun on Saturday, in a game they may need to win to claim a home semi-final. If Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour and the like can score enough tries to put the game beyond their rivals, all well and good. If not, they will have to take a less glamorous route to glory by playing Edinburgh at their own game and getting the better of the arm-wrestle, particularly in defence.
Matt Fagerson, for one, believes they are well placed to do so. The Champions Cup quarter-final defeat by Saracens may have highlighted some of Glasgow’s old failings, but the back-row forward believes that the two subsequent league wins over Ulster and Leinster have proven that his team can tough it out when required – as has the squad’s increased competitiveness in training.
“Last year we had a really easy run in the league to a home semi-final,” Fagerson said. “Our run-up this year has been a lot different, a lot tougher, and it’s really had to test us to see if we can see games out. We know we can score points, but the massive defensive aspect has come to fruition, definitely in the last two games.
“I don’t know if it was after the Saracens game, but boys realise if we don’t front on the weekend it’s not just going to happen on the day. It’s really got to come through training. Boys are really pushing themselves.”
They certainly need to push themselves if they want to get into the matchday squad, as competition for places is fiercer now than it has been all season, with Fagerson’s own area of the team being a prime example. With Callum Gibbins and Ryan Wilson due to return at the weekend and Rob Harley in the mix as well, the 20-year-old knows there is no guarantee that he will start against Edinburgh. One thing that could play to Fagerson’s advantage is the fact that both Gibbins and Wilson will be short of match practice, which might decide head coach Dave Rennie against starting both of them.
But whoever starts in the back row, and whoever comes on later in the game, the task will be the same, demanding one: play their part in getting the better of a formidable Edinburgh unit that is likely to include Magnus Bradbury, John Barclay and Hamish Watson. “Edinburgh have really turned up the last two times we’ve played them and we just didn’t really match them physically,” Fagerson acknowledged. “They’ve got quite a dominant forward pack as they’ve shown beating Toulon away. They’ve done really well in the Champions Cup and through the league, so I think we just need to match them physically in this game.
“We’re not really dwelling too much on what happened before and after Christmas. We’ve looked at Edinburgh and learned from our mistakes and we’re hopefully going to go out and put our best performance on the park.”
Meanwhile, Glasgow have confirmed the names of those players who will be leaving at the end of the season or have already moved on during the course of this campaign. Those who will need to find a new club include Alex Dunbar, who has been on loan at Newcastle, and Kevin Bryce, who returned for his second spell at Scotstoun last summer. Lelia Masaga will also leave at the end of a two-year contract.
Glasgow Warriors departures:
Brian Alainu’uese (22 appearances, now with Toulon).
Jamie Bhatti (44 appearances, moving to Edinburgh).
Kevin Bryce (25 appearances).
Alex Dunbar (119 appearances).
Stuart Hogg (118 appearances, moving to Exeter Chiefs).
James Malcolm (25 appearances, moving to London Scottish).
Lelia Masaga (8 appearances).
Greg Peterson (31 appearances, now with Bordeaux-Begles).
Robbie Smith (1 appearance, moving to Bedford Blues).
Lewis Wynne (18 appearances, now with London Scottish).