Scotland’s autumn campaign was built around an all-Glasgow back line with an all-Edinburgh front-row the preferred starting line-up and their inter-city rivals on the bench, but it was a different story in the boiler-house, however where Glasgow’s Jonny Gray found himself partnered first by Ben Toolis, then by Grant Gilchrist, two men he is likely to find himself up against over the next two weekends. Where better, then, to start in examining what it is that makes derby matches different than with one of those who has spent much of his time recently trying to forge a partnership with a man he will now be trying to undermine at every turn.
“Personally, I try not to think about that,” claims Toolis. “Someone like Jonny is a great player, but that instinct takes over and you want to get one up on each other, that’s just the nature of it. You’ve just got to go into it, not try to over-think things and deal with what naturally comes which is what usually happens in derby games.”
So well do Scotland’s leading players know one another that it is difficult to generate surprise even when fielding a gifted newcomer, which is clearly what Glasgow’s management are hoping to do with Huw Jones. He was left out of their side to face Montpellier yesterday to protect a niggling wrist injury with a view to making only his second appearance for the club on the ground where he has scored five Test tries in just eight appearances. However, he will hardly catch those who have been alongside him on those occasions unawares and Toolis reckons Edinburgh know what is required.
“If you give him too much space he’ll utilise it,” he noted. “That’s when he’s at his best so I think we need to jam him a bit, not give him much ball and keep the pressure on, but we’ve got good outside backs and good defenders too and our boys have been scoring tries and defending well.”
Intimate understanding of what one another can do is the element that can add extra intrigue but also frustrate. It is a sporting cliché related to derby matches that bragging rights that go with them mean quality is sacrificed in favour of added expenditure of energy and Toolis reckons even the State of Origin rivalry with which he grew up in Australia cannot quite compare with the intensity to be encountered in Celtic derbies in general and this one in particular, with the national team so heavily dependent on these two major teams.
“I’ve probably noticed a bit more emphasis on them over here compared with growing up in Oz, although there you have New South Wales – Queensland, but it’s probably more consistent over here,” he observed. “The last few years in derbies have been really close and looking at the past history as well, when I wasn’t here, you can tell that there was a lot of pride shown, not just in Scotland, but in Ireland and Wales as well.”
He admits, though, that it is not always as easy to stick to gameplans.
“You have a base of what the coaches want and you try to deliver on that, but when it comes to a derby game the mentality takes over, that killer instinct comes out and you always want to get one up on the opposition. It brings the best out of you as a player and a team, though and you always want to be a part of them,” he insisted.
The nature of the games means they are not always that watchable for the detached onlooker, but there are not many of those about on days when, more than ever, only results matter. Toolis has been part of an Edinburgh squad that has repeatedly of late out-smarted a Glasgow team that should, in terms of personnel, have maintained the upper hand it initially held after a trophy was put up for grabs in 2007; Edinburgh having won the 1872 Challenge Cup just once in the first seven years of its existence, before defying the odds in 2014-15 and again the following season.
“My first two starts we ended up winning the second match by a few points and the total aggregate and I gained a better understanding at that time of what it meant to the boys, the squad, the club, the fans,” Toolis recounts. “It was a really good experience, then to do win the aggregate again the next year as well was extremely special. Losing it last year was disappointing, but beating them on their home turf at the end of the season was also really special, so I’ve had nothing but good experiences from it and hopefully that will continue, starting next week.”
He knows it is tough to assess form coming into this match, such is the gulf between the European competitions in which they are respectively involved.
“It’s kind of hard to tell because they haven’t lost a game in the Pro14, but struggled in the Champions Cup,” Toolis observed. “We’ve had a lot of good wins in a row and we’re really happy with that consistency going into next week, so hopefully that’ll be enough and we’ve had a good few years in derby games as well so we’ll be confident.”
The first of this season’s 1872 Challenge Cup matches takes place at Murrayfield on Saturday (ko 5.10pm), the second is at Scotstoun a week later (ko 3.15pm) and the Pro14’s new conference system means the teams meet in a third derby in April’s final round of fixtures.
Source : HeraldScotland