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Rest as good as a change for Edinburgh as Glasgow keep counsel

As central Scotland battens down the hatches for the midwinter storms, there is a powerful feeling in the rugby community that the wind is right behind Edinburgh ahead of their forthcoming 1872 Cup matches against Glasgow.

Al Kellock lifts the 1872 Cup last season but the Glasgow captain will miss this year's matches
Al Kellock lifts the 1872 Cup last season but the Glasgow captain will miss this year's matches

The first of them takes place at Murrayfield on Thursday, and the capital side can count on more than home advantage to tip the balance their way. Victories over Gloucester and Leinster over the past two weekends have unquestionably put a spring in their steps, while Glasgow's most recent outings brought successive losses to Cardiff Blues that ended their interest in this season's Heineken Cup.

The most simple explanation of the shift in the east/west balance of power is that Edinburgh have slashed their error count while Glasgow's has been growing at an alarming rate. There is nothing particularly fancy about the kind of rugby Edinburgh have been playing; they have simply covered the basics that seem to have confounded their mates at the other end of the M8.

Small wonder, then, that Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons was happy to keep changes to a minimum when he named his side for Thursday. The only alteration to the starting XV he sent out against Leinster sees Wicus Blaauw take over from Ally Dickinson in the front row. At such a busy time of the year, it is a bold strategy, but Solomons, who only recently suggested that a number of top players were suffering from fatigue, believes that key individuals have now had all the rest they needed.

So, too, the Glasgow players. The cancellation of last Friday's RaboDirect PRO12 fixture against Treviso due to a waterlogged pitch has given the Warriors players a few extra days of preparation, although there must also be a concern that they will go into one of the most important games of their season just a little undercooked. "We will see on Boxing Day," replied head coach Gregor Townsend when asked about that issue. "It was very frustrating at the time. Players prepare for a game all day and not to get that release is frustrating for them. Four or five who were selected to play in that game have not made the team for this week so that is doubly difficult.

"We have had an extra couple of days for Edinburgh and I believe that is an ideal way to go into the game. We were in on Sunday and we have had a full day today [Monday]. We've been able to cover a fair bit."

Of those selected to play against Treviso, four will not be in the XV at Murrayfield. Stuart Hogg takes over from Byron McGuigan at outside-centre, DTH Van der Merwe ousts Niko Matawalu on the wing, while Ryan Grant and Josh Strauss return to the pack at the expense of Gordon Reid and Rob Harley respectively.

Hogg's selection in the midfield has echoes of the efforts of Sean Lineen, Townsend's predecessor, to convert the player into that role, but the coach stressed that the move would not be permanent. "We believe having Stuart at 13 gives us some really good options," Townsend explained. "He has played a lot there in the past. I believe full-back is his best position but we have seen him playing at 10 as well. What is important for Stuart is to get him on the ball as much as possible. He is going to have opportunities."

Glasgow's prickliness about a Sunday newspaper report which quoted - accurately, if out of its humorous context - Hogg saying "everyone hates Edinburgh," led to Warriors players being withdrawn from media duties yesterday. The action reinforced the impression that a bunker mentality has grown up around the club in recent weeks, fuelled by a run of defeats and a number of off-field difficulties.

By contrast, things are much more relaxed at Edinburgh right now, those wins against Gloucester and Leinster reinforcing claims that Solomons, who endured some difficult weeks after his arrival earlier this season, now has the side playing the way he wants.

Captain Greig Laidlaw, an individual not given to hyperbole, certainly thinks things are coming together under the new coach. "Now that Alan has been in charge for a good number of months everyone is comfortable in the systems," said Laidlaw. "Confidence is breeding from there. It's coming off the back of good defence when we're in these games, edging in front and winning games consistently at home now, and that also builds confidence."

The combination of a resurgent Edinburgh and the first, faint whiffs of anxiety around Glasgow will unquestionably add to the competitiveness of a game that seems to acquire a sharper edge with every passing season. Laidlaw acknowledged that passions can spill over at times - as they did three seasons ago when one of the games ended with a double sending-off - and agreed that he had a particular responsibility in that area.

"Everyone knows what derby games are like," said the scrum-half. "Of course there are bragging rights and we desperately want to win. All credit to Glasgow. They've been on top the last few years and we're going out there to reverse that.

"Derbies sometimes boil over; boys want to impress. So the referee has got a big role as well. He'll have to be strong in the middle and make sure he controls it. I'll control my players. They have respect for me just as I have respect for them and if I tell them to calm down they'll calm down. We won't be worrying about that, we'll just be worrying about the performance."

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