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BROTHERS IN ARMS

Glasgow Warriors:20 (6) Edinburgh: 16 (6)



Just as Australians associate this time of year with prawns (40% of their annual consumption takes place at Christmas), so the Scottish rugby community associates the festive period with the 1872 Cup.  And, in four of the past five years, an Edinburgh series victory.

That expectation was reflected in the build up to this evening's match at Scotstoun.  There was much nervous talk in the west about the power fo the Gunners' pack, the odd back handed compliment about the capital club's structured game plan, and a bit of anxiety among the Edimbourgeoisie about being favourites in this opening round of the 1872. 

One thing that has really struck me about Edinburgh's season so far is how the depth built up last season and during the World Cup campaign has really kicked in. The result is that there simply is not a first choice starting XV.  Yes, the likes of The Greatest Schoeman, 'Rambo' McInally, Bill Mata probably are in the box seat for their slots.  But when Scotland's standout back row operator from Japan, future Scotland captain Jamie (T) Ritchie, can be rotated out of the back row for a match of this importance, that's depth.  Overall, Edinburgh made 10 personnel changes from last weekend's narrow away victory in Coventry. 

Coming off the back of two home defeats on the trot, the Warriors fielded their heaviest pack of the season in an effort to match the Gunners up front, with the outstanding Scott Cummings startng in the boilerhouse, while George Horne started at half back and Edinburgh-bound Huw Jones took the 13 jersey.  My own favourite Warrior, The (evergreen) Ginger Ninja, Rob Harley, started in the back row.

Would it be big bro' or little bro' coming out on top at full time?  Would Dave Rennie be rapt?  Or would it be Richard 'Cockers' Cockerill who would be quietly proud of his Embramen.

In the end, in a match dominated by both defences, Glasgow prevailed for two reasons.  Firstly, they had just a bit more inspiration when it really counted, not least through the nous of their first five-eighth, Adam Hastings. Secondly, the physicality and sheer dog in their play, exemplified by Zander Fagerson.  They richly deserved their win.

After a bright Glasgow start, an Edinburgh guddle in attack saw the ball go loose.  Taylor did well to track back to gather the ball on the floor, but was caught by Jones and gave away the penalty.  Hastings slotted the straightforward three points on 6 minutes. The Gunners struggled with their discipline early on, giving away three in the first 10 minutes to give Glasgow a foothold. Clearly referee Blain - whose communication with players was confident and authoritative all night - had clearly not been influenced by one or two pre-match remarks from Edinburgh's head coach.

A Glasgow penalty for offside allowed the Gunners to knock the ball into the enemy 22 for a lineout, their first real attacking opportunity.  Brilliant Glasgow defence in the ensuing phases allowed Fagerson to turn over and Horne cleared.  In the reaction of the Warriors and the home crowd, there was a sense that maybe these guys were up for this one. But Watson snaffled Glasgow lineout ball and the Gunners were back into the red zone.  Eventually, Glasgow infringed and 'Denis' Hickey tied the scores with his first penalty kick of the evening, on 21 minutes.   

Lots of penalties on both sides.  And lots of silly ones too.  Steyn tackled Blairhorn in the air off the succeeding restart as this match had yet to settle into a pattern. The Gunners needed to impose their own game and take control.  They made a good start with a superb long touchfinder from The King, setting up another attacking lineout for the visitors.  

On 27 minutes, a bit of magic from Mr Darcy Graham saw the winger skip past his man in absolutely no space, dance along the sidelines and chip the defending Jackson and his extravagant barnet.  It looked like he might be away but Ruaridh Jackson, in mid-air, looked to have moved his leg to trip him.  A clear penalty and yellow card. And Glasgow really could have had no complaints as Hickey lined up his second pot at goal.  He hit the post, but the ball ended up in Embra hands and short-handed Glasgow infringed again.  This time, Hickey made no mistake with the boot and the score was 6-3 Edinburgh on the half hour.  Skipper Gibbins was warned for repeated infringements following eight penalties conceded in half an hour.

Like this match as a whole, the set piece may have been a mess, but the front row battle between Schoeman and Fagerson was intriguing nonetheless. The Glasgow tighthead, still only 23, had the upper hand.  He won a penalty on 34 minutes and Hastings nailed the long kick superbly to square the score at six, having navigated the power play very well.  The half ended with Mata being carded - perhaps somewhat unluckily - for an offside offence as the Warriors upped the pace late on, following a great Cummings line break deep into the Edinburgh 22, setting up a series of quickfire phases.  Rashly, as it turned out, Glasgow took a scrummage rather than going for goal.  Then Fagerson turned villain, penalised for slipping his bind to allow the Gunners to escape to the sheds unscathed, the match finely balanced.

Glasgow's pack won a scrum penalty on 45 minutes, setting up a good attacking position. They pounded the Edinburgh line, but superb efforts by Schoeman, Watson and Toolis in defence forced a penalty for Glasgow holding on on the floor.  Potentially a crucial moment as the power play came to an end with the Gunners having conceded nothing.  But Fraser Brown went off for an HIA as a result of a hit from McInally.  After a lengthy officiating exposition, Rambo was carded on 50 minutes.  It looked like the right call in a hugely physical match and the Warriors had another 10 minute advantage.  Duhan van der Merwe came on to make way for Mikey Willemse as the Gunners kept eight men in their pack.

On 55 minutes, George Turner, who had on;ljust come on, was carded for a no arms tackle on Schoeman after the Warriors' superbly disciplined defence had stopped repeated Edinburgh phases on half way.  Hickey knocked over a superb goal from far out to convert the penalty and edge the visitors 9-6 ahead in this tight affair. It left Ryan Wilson throwing the ball in at the lineout, with sadly predictable results. 

Just before McInally returned to the fray, Seymour then came very close with a fine break sparked by George Horne.  But frantic Edinburgh scramble defence and an unlucky guddle denied the winger the first try of the evening.  Oli Kebble came on for the Warriors as Steyn came off for the duration of the latest power play.  One quarter to go and the match was on a knife edge.  After the Gunners' defence held firm around halfway, Hastings threw a pass wildly high and into touch.  Perhaps a sign that the Warriors were now feeling the pressure.

Then Glasgow scored a stunning try.   Hastings broke, kicked behind the defence for Jones to gather.  The international centre took the ball on, fixed The King and put replacement Ali Price away to cross under the posts.  13-9 Glasgow on 65 minutes and a sign of what this team can conjure up given half a chance.  As Steyn came back on, the pressure was now on the Gunners to pull this one out of the fire.

And Blairhorn had to look lively to clear another dangerous attack sparked by Jones immediately afterwards saw the Warriors chase a kick ahead into the enemy 22.  Time for the leaders in this squad to stand tall as the home side cranked up the pressure.

And they did.  A bit of probing in the Glasgow red zone led to advantage for a high tackle on Mr Darcy.  The ball was whipped across wide for Watson to put Blairhorn away on the wing.  He had a lot to do, but stepped inside two defenders and then carried Adam Ashe over for the touchdown.  'Piet' van der Walt's fine conversion from the corner put the Gunners 16-13 up on 72 minutes.  Could they close this one out? 

The Warriors were immediately back on the attack and Groom was the fifth man on the night to be carded on 75 minutes.  Inexorably, Glasgow rumbled and rumbled and Turner drove over for the try.  20-16 with Hastings' conversion from the touchline.  Only a try would do for the Gunners now.

It looked like a classic Graham break had unlocked the home defence, scortooting through the defensive line.  But the winger just outran his support, allowing the Warriors to turn over.  Yet in yet another twist in this tale, Watson and Rambo forced Wilson to play ruck ball on the floor.  The short-handed Gunners kicked to the corner to set up a final attack.  Without a half back, they pounded and pounded the Glasgow line.  But eventually they were penalised as, appropriately, Man of the Match Zander Fagerson forced Mr Darcy to hold on to end this classic 1872 encounter.

The result set up the return fixture next Saturday at BT Murrayfield absolutely perfectly.