It’s been a busy few days in the Pro 12 with traditional festive derbies taking place in Wales, Italy and Ireland but the main focus amongst Scottish rugby fans was the 1872 Cup double-header between Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh - a fixture with 140 years of rivalry.
With Scottish rugby enduring a low point after the autumn whitewash, the 1872 Cup brings an opportunity for fans to get behind their side and witness two derby matches in the same week decided by an aggregate score.
The first leg was played on Friday 21st December at a packed-out Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow’s west end. With both teams coming off back-to-back losses in the Heineken Cup, it was vital that the match lived up to expectation and provided a bit of a morale boost given the disappointing season at national level.
Glasgow struck the first blow with a convincing 23-14 home win over Edinburgh, but really should have accumulated more of a lead in the first half such was the home side’s dominance. Edinburgh’s players with the exception of skipper Greig Laidlaw, didn’t look interested early on, but a second half fight back yielded a try from Pier Francis to add to Laidlaw’s earlier penalties to set up a nail-biting second leg at Murrayfield.
Edinburgh 17–21 Glasgow Warriors (31-44 agg)
In a one-sided contest, Glasgow Warriors retained the 1872 cup in thrilling style with another comfortable win over rivals Edinburgh at Murrayfield although the hosts produced a late rally despite never really being in the tie.
Early dominance by the Glasgow forwards allowed Sean Maitland to cross for his first try before Ruaridh Jackson ran in another from an interception to give the west coast side a 3-16 halftime lead which all but sealed the destination of the old trophy despite centre Peter Horne’s poor afternoon in front of the posts and earlier yellow card for a dangerous off the ball tackle.
As they had done at Scotstoun in the first leg, Edinburgh showed what they are capable of with a neat try from Roddy Grant after a chip through from Greig Laidlaw, and then another near the end from Tim Visser but an earlier try from Glasgow scrum half Henry Pyrgos had given the Warriors and unassailable lead just after Edinburgh prop Alan Jacobsen was also sent to the sin-bin, and they retained the 1872 trophy for a fourth successive year and allowed a showcase for the likes of forwards Rob Harley, Dougie Hall and Ryan Wilson among others to push for national honours in 2013.
Elsewhere in the Pro 12 there was the traditional east Wales Boxing Day derby between Cardiff Blues and Newport Gwent Dragons, played out in torrential rain in what looked like a throwback to the 1970s such was the state of the pitch and the inability to tell players apart only added to the boisterous atmosphere at the Arms Park.
The Blues held on for a vital 12-10 victory thanks to four penalties from young stand-off Rhys Patchell although the result has little bearing on the Pro 12 standings as both sides have underperformed so far this season.
In west Wales the Ospreys powered past the high-flying Scarlets in a comfortable 32-3 victory at the Liberty stadium thanks to tries from James King, Khan Fotuali’I and a penalty try along with four Dan Biggar penalties, conversion and a fortuitous drop-goal from try-scorer Fotuali’i to secure an important win against a poor Scarlets team who finished the game with 13 players due to forwards Rob McCkusker and Gareth Owen receiving red cards for brawling and a dangerous tackle respectively, ensuring a miserable night for Wales’ top-placed side.
In Ireland it was league-leaders Ulster who claimed bragging rights over provincial rivals Leinster with a 27-19 victory at Ravenhill last weekend to maintain their 100% record in the Pro12.
A penalty try early on gave the home side an early lead and that was followed up by scores from winger Andrew Trimble and number 8 Nick Williams to add to penalties by Ruan Peinaar and Paddy Jackson and Pienaar’s three conversions whilst Leinster’s only try came from Fergus McFadden.
In the west it was an under-strength Munster who escaped Galway with a win as they edged past a spirited Connacht side in a narrow 12-16 win at the Sportsground. Dan Parks landed all the home side’s points in testing conditions whilst Munster were awarded a penalty try, converted by Ian Keatley who also landed three penalties to claim another victory on the road.
In the second glut of festive fixtures Munster recorded another crucial 24-10 victory, this time over league leaders Ulster who were fielding an under-strength XV ahead of their upcoming Heineken Cup fixtures. The loss was their first of their Pro 12 campaign although they rallied near the end to produce a fine try from Ali Birch after Simon Zebo and Peter O’Mahony had crossed for Munster.
In Dublin, Leinster eased to a comfortable 17-0 victory over neighbours Connacht at the RDS through tries from Ian Madigan and Jack McGrath.
Over in Italy it was Treviso who edged out rivals Zebre in a poor 3-10 victory at Stadio XXV Aprille although the reverse fixture was a far more entertaining affair – a 26-18 win for Treviso thanks to tries from Leonardo Ghiraldini and Edoardo Gori which will boost their confidence ahead of their trip to Scotstoun on Friday whilst Zebre’s search for a maiden Pro 12 victory will continue into 2012.
Scottish rugby fans can be cautiously optimistic about 2013 as the 1872 derby proved that there are players determined to right the wrongs of seasons past and show that they are capable of consistently winning test matches. However, there are precious few tougher venues than Twickenham in which to begin the healing process; particularly after England have just beaten world champions New Zealand by a comfortable margin.
We will find out just how much it means to new coach Scott Johnson and his players on Saturday February 2 when the Six Nations gets underway with the Calcutta Cup.
*You can follow Finlay on Twitter @FinMorrison