completING a full four-year cycle with the 1872 Challenge Cup in their possession could hardly be a better way for Glasgow Warriors to prepare themselves for not just any old New Year but one in which a British & Irish Lions tour is taking place.

Their weekend celebrations may have been slightly spoiled by the reality check provided by Warren Gatland, the Lions head coach, when he offered the opinion that it would not be controversial to say that representation for the Scots on this summer's tour will be "challenging".

Richie Gray, arguably the sole Scottish Test contender, having had that prospect undermined by walking into a shambles at Sale Sharks, it had been anticipated by most knowledgeable observers that the only other two Scots expected to be among the tourists when this season began – Dave Denton and Stuart Hogg – have been afflicted by a combination of injuries and second-season syndrome.

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Scottish rugby has, consequently, never been held in lower regard across these islands than it is right now, which makes it hard to be overly excited about the outcome of the derbies in their own right, as reflected in a 22% drop in attendance compared with last year.

Scotland having struggled to score tries throughout Gregor Townsend's stint as attack coach for the national team, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Glasgow merely proved that their head coach is at his best when coming up with ways of breaking down Scottish defences. Even so, their struggling neighbours have still scored more tries than them in the RaboDirect Pro12, while only Edinburgh and Connacht have scored fewer in the Heineken Cup.

What success Glasgow have enjoyed, then, largely seems a result of Matt Taylor's work in building on the resilience already established by his predecessors as defence coaches, Gary Mercer and Graham Steadman. Even in the derbies, a lack of ruthlessness allowed Edinburgh back into both matches when they should have been dead and buried, and it would have cost Glasgow a lot more than a couple of four-try bonus points against better opposition.

Those two missed bonus points would also have taken them into second place in the table and failure to secure them could yet prove costly, given the overall shape of the Pro12. For all that they did enough to improve their league position by a place in the course of the festive season, their hold on fourth spot looks precarious.

Just a point behind them are last season's Pro12 winners, the Ospreys, and the team the Welsh side beat in the Grand Final, Leinster, the current European champions. It is, then, vital that Glasgow capitalise on a schedule which now pits them against the Italian teams, Benetton Treviso at home and Zebre away, followed by a trip to the Dragons, the poorest of the Celtic teams.

That is the collective situation, but what of the individuals who would be Lions, which, in turn, means proving themselves in the Six Nations in the weeks and months ahead?

For Scott Johnson, the national team's interim head coach, having watched his first matches since being appointed to that role, the derbies were all the more important, particularly since so many of the contenders in Exile are playing with struggling teams (Richie Gray, Richie Vernon and Fraser McKenzie at Sale Sharks and Scott Lawson at London Irish), or operating in England's second tier (Rory Lawson and Ally Hogg at Newcastle Falcons and Kyle Traynor with Bristol).

Taken department by department what the caretaker saw was:

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Stuart Hogg is struggling to regain the form that had many pencilling him in as a potential Lion at the start of the season. This was most spectacularly, but not only, demonstrated in his failure to secure a bonus point at Murrayfield when he only had to catch the ball a yard from the line,

Sean Maitland's first try for Glasgow in the same game offered encouragement and, as an Aussie, Johnson will know as much as any of us about the New Zealander, while Peter Murchie, Glasgow's first-choice full-back for the first derby and much of this season, performed with the solidity that led to him being brought into the autumn Test squad. With Sean Lamont operating at outside centre – it seems unlikely to be a long-term Test option – his running strength and vast experience are still major factors. Tim Visser may not have done much other than score the last of the nine tries registered in the course of the two matches, but a man who has scored 48 in 3½ Pro12 seasons cannot be overlooked by a country that struggles so badly in that department. Perhaps the biggest disappointment in that regard, then, is that DTH van der Merwe, Visser's Glasgow equivalent as an imported flying finisher, can never qualify to play for the land in which he makes his living, having been the dominant force at Scotstoun.


Nick De Luca may have been given all the more reason to rue the training accident that ruled him out of the derbies after Matt Scott's switch to outside centre gave him the chance to demonstrate that he offers a credible alternative to his regular Edinburgh midfield partner and the mercurial Max Evans in the No.13 jersey. That is also partly because Peter Horne's performance at inside centre for Glasgow, albeit perhaps not as a potential Test goalkicker, rightly drew considerable praise from club coach Townsend, while his running in turn offers a slightly different option in the No.12 jersey to Scott.


Greig Laidlaw has done commendably well as a stand-in stand-off for club and country but he looked like a proper specialist back at scrum-half, particularly in the first of his side's losing causes at Scotstoun as the Edinburgh captain did more than most to prevent them from being blown away after conceding three tries in the first 25 minutes.

If his combativeness does result in him being shifted to his original position – albeit Henry Pyrgos again did well as a replacement in the first derby and as Laidlaw's opposite number in the second – it could allow for the recall of Ruaridh Jackson, who is at last showing something of the form that generated considerable excitement when he first emerged a few years ago, while he is also showing rather more willing in defence.

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Injuries to the established Scotland rivals Ross Rennie and John Barclay, as well as to the latter's Glasgow team-mate Chris Fusaro, left a gap which was not the only one through which Rob "the Robot" Harley surged in the second derby match in particular as he seized the chance to demonstrate his versatility. Roddy Grant also had his moments but, like Fusaro, has to counter prejudice about his size in the modern game, a problem that Harley, who won under-20 caps at lock and consequently took something of a rugged, almost South African-style approach to openside play, does not need to worry about.

Overall this is the most competitive department, with Kelly Brown and Al Strokosch bound to feature in the RBS 6 Nations, while Denton's class means he is is unlikely to be overlooked. However, Ryan Wilson's man-of-the-match display at Murrayfield will have done him no harm, albeit the similar award picked up by Johnnie Beattie for Montpellier in a recent Heineken Cup-tie against Cardiff may ultimately carry rather more weight.


Had the old management been in charge, the sight of Al Kellock picking up the 1872 Challenge Cup for the fourth successive season would surely have reinforced a message that seems to have had to be learned over and over again in recent seasons about looking at contenders' qualities in context and in the round. Whether the most natural leader in the domestic game retains his place in Scotland's starting XV is bound to be moot, though, because of the inflated status given to front-five play in England, where Richie Gray and Jim Hamilton, not to mention the former's Sale Sharks clubmate, Fraser McKenzie, ply their trade.

If, though, it is accepted that the higher velocity Pro12 style is more appropriate to the way Scotland need to play, Grant Gilchrist did himself no harm in a losing cause – he just missed out on a cap in November – while Tom Ryder and Tim Swinson continue to perform steadily alongside Kellock.

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While worries about his throwing remain, Ross Ford is likely to be reinstated as Scotland hooker once he recovers from the injury suffered while he was performing well in the first derby. Otherwise it was Glasgow's dominant scrummage that drew most attention. So, for all that Scott Lawson started the last autumn Test, the cases of Dougie Hall and Pat MacArthur were considerably advanced.

That is even more the case for the Glasgow men at prop. Ryan Grant is now one of Scotland's more realistic contenders for a Lions tour place as an automatic Scotland first-choice at loosehead, while Moray Low may have forced his way back in front of Geoff Cross as the main challenger to never-on-a-Sunday Euan Murray on the other side of the scrum.