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Edinburgh must capitalise on their superior squad

INTERVIEW Fijian captain Talei insists his Murrayfield team possess the perfect personnel to wrest the 1872 Challenge Cup from Glasgow's grasp, writes Kevin Ferrie

Netani Talei, left with the ball, feels Edinburgh can win if they play to their strengths from the start. Picture: SNS
Netani Talei, left with the ball, feels Edinburgh can win if they play to their strengths from the start. Picture: SNS

The man who inspired Edinburgh's run to last season's Heineken Cup semi-finals believes they have superior personnel to today's derby rivals but have struggled to match Glasgow Warriors' commitment to their game-plan.

In doing so Netani Talei, who won three man-of-the-match awards in the course of that historic campaign, addressed the issue that is central to what many see as the reason behind Glasgow's domination of a fixture they have lost just once in the past eight meetings.

"We have talented players . . . more talented players than Glasgow do, but Glasgow play to their system while we tend to go off the rails sometimes and realise it is not working for us, then come back to a system that does," he said. "If we stick to that from the first whistle and work as a team, go through the system and play our phases, it will come out good for us. It's just we have that impatient spell we have that needs to change."

Even that solitary Edinburgh win, registered two years ago, came after a 12-point beating in the first leg at Firhill which meant Edinburgh just missed out on picking up the 1872 Challenge Cup, the trophy contested between these sides. It is now four years since Edinburgh had the better of the double-header and that success stands in splendid isolation as the only season in the past nine in which they have had the better aggregate over the encounters.

What makes that all the more curious is that Edinburgh having won both games the first time the teams met twice in a league season, back in 2003/04, Glasgow have themselves only done that once in the interim, three seasons ago. That the scorelines have generally remained close only seems to reinforce the view that, similarly resourced as they are under shared ownership, Glasgow's greater desire to do what they have to is what makes the difference.

Whether Talei's assessment of the make-up of the two squads is highly subjective, but his view certainly chimes with that of many observers who believe Glasgow have, in recent years, done a much better job than Edinburgh and, indeed, Scotland, of maximising their collective effectiveness.

It is also generally accepted that, for all that their players have typically continued to express confidence in the changes being made to their playing style, it was captain Al Kellock's determination to reinstate Glasgow's core values after they lost five matches at the start of the season, that got them back on track.

The former Edinburgh lock who has lifted the 1872 Challenge Cup in each of the past three seasons, did not disguise his anger when stating the view that they had become too easy to beat after their defeat by the Scarlets in September. His men responded in typically gritty fashion by grinding out six successive league wins thereafter.

Edinburgh, meanwhile, were reverting to their flakey old selves as they lost seven successive matches.

The team's senior players' realisation that they must take a Kellock-like lead in changing things was reflected last week when Greig Laidlaw and Nick De Luca asked if they, rather than the management, could make the presentation on what to expect, as well as what was required.

Talei's contribution to the discussion can also be seen in that context. As an international captain in his own right the big Fijian will fully understand how easy it will be for the opposition to seize upon such comments. However, he must also be fully aware that Edinburgh's record is beginning to threaten the job prospects of many within their current set-up, as he alluded to when asked if these matches can mean as much to imports, such as himself, as to home-grown players.

"It does, because I've got to know these boys and their lifestyle and culture is now part of my lifestyle and culture," he said. "It's a tradition back home the same as it is here, they're proud of their country and where they're from and Glasgow and Edinburgh is a big rivalry. I'm proud to be part of Edinburgh and winning is important to put a smile on the guys' faces. The boys were down after last week but we're past that stage now, everyone's looking forward to Saturday and having smiles on their faces."

They must seek to do that in the context of being very much underdogs with Glasgow occupying the same fourth place in which they finished the last Pro12 season, while Edinburgh's current ninth placing is hardly a marked improvement on last season's 11th. "You can tell by their performance that Glasgow are in the top four and we would love to be in the same situation but we can't say that at the moment. It's a new year, we're looking forward to changes, climbing up the table, making a statement and saying we can play in this league," said Talei.

That should have gone without saying after the events of last season, but it needs to be made.

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