|Pro14: Glasgow Warriors v Edinburgh|
|Venue: Scotstoun Stadium Date: Saturday, 27 April Time: 19:35 BST|
|Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland 810MW/DAB/online; live text commentary on the BBC Sport Scotland website|
If Glasgow Warriors supporters had started dreaming about what life might be like with the former All Black Aaron Cruden running the show at Scotstoun in the coming years, then now is the time to wake up.
Cruden, a protege and friend of Glasgow coach Dave Rennie and the subject of all sorts of chat linking him with a move from Montpellier to Scotland, will not be playing his rugby for the Warriors next season. “He’s not coming,” said Rennie.
“There was a lot of speculation around Aaron and has been for a long period of time. I’m constantly talking to him. I know him well and we’re pretty close. I’d love him to join us. I think he’d be great around educating our young 10s, Adam [Hastings] and Brandon [Thomson], but he’s not coming.”
‘Adam can be better than Finn’
On the eve of the third instalment of the Scottish derby at Scotstoun on Saturday – a tantalising game that could see Glasgow reach an all-important home Pro14 semi-final while dumping Edinburgh not just from the play-offs but also from the Champions Cup next season – Rennie expanded on a few themes, from rugby to family.
One area in particular raised an eyebrow. Rennie believes Glasgow are better now than they were last season when they had Finn Russell at the helm. It’s quite a claim, given the brilliance Russell is capable of. Russell is one of the world’s top 10s, you say. “In your opinion,” Rennie replies, intriguingly.
“I truly believe Adam has the ability to be better than Finn,” says Rennie of 22-year-old Hastings. “Look, Finn’s a really talented player but his ability to read play and build pressure still has a wee way to go, as has his work off the ball. You see a little inconsistency around Finn’s game and Adam is probably the same but he’s a young man who’s probably going to get a lot better.
“He’s had an excellent season. We were able to build more pressure with Adam in the 10 seat because he doesn’t feel the need to do something fancy after four phases because we’re not going anywhere. Adam is on track to develop into a really good 10 who will put pressure on Finn.”
Those comments can only buoy Hastings’ confidence before Saturday. Perhaps that was the point.
‘Cockerill is trying to play the poor cousin card’
This game didn’t need any more edge – skin and hair have flown often in recent meetings – but it has it nonetheless. Both must win, but for very different reasons. With seven Pro14 victories in a row, Rennie’s team have the momentum, but with the head-to-head record in the last two seasons standing at 4-1 in Edinburgh’s favour, Richard Cockerill’s men have the psychological edge.
Cockerill has had fun at Glasgow’s expense before previous meetings. He’s almost mocked them at times, referring to their “pin-up boys” before the first derby of the season, a game Edinburgh won 23-7. “I keep hearing how tough they are,” he said. “They’ve been to fight club in pre-season and they’re all now pretty hard. We’ll see…”
We did. Not only did they win the first game, they won the second as well. Cockerill took great relish in pointing out Edinburgh’s physical dominance on both of those days.
Rennie isn’t one to bite on the trash talk, but in conversation the other day there was a hint of a retort. “It’s his opinion,” he says of his Edinburgh counterpart’s mind games. “I’m not too concerned what he thinks about us. Often he’s trying to play the poor cousin card – a lack of money, a lack of this and a lack of that, but seven of that Edinburgh pack started against England and Bill Mata is one of the best players in the competition. They have a good side.
“They’ve won eight of the last 10 derbies. Initially, we probably had a lack of respect, our guys probably thought they didn’t have to work as hard. Historically, [the fixture] has been something that brings out the worst in us.
“Edinburgh play risk-free footie and they do it very well. It’s got its limitations and that’s probably why they’ve lost a handful of games this year. If every team played that style it probably wouldn’t be too exciting for the people sitting in the stand. You’ll end up with the nines kicking 30 times each. We just want a bit of balance to our game.”
‘I won’t walk away from my contract’
Rennie extended his stay at Glasgow recently by a year. He’s now contracted until June 2020 and says he’ll honour that commitment no matter what. There’s been talk Australia might make a move for him post-World Cup, but even if they do he wouldn’t countenance another job until his time in Scotland is done.
“I’ve signed and I won’t walk away from that contract. I’m not saying that Australia is impossible but it’s improbable. They’d need to wait until 2020, which is pretty unlikely. I’m really happy here.
“We only signed for one more year and, to be honest, it’s more around family. I’m not sure I could convince my wife to sign for two years because that would be two more years away from children and grandchildren. Our three sons and the grandkids are all in New Zealand. Family is important to us and she is tugged a little bit to go home. We Skype three nights a week and get videos sent every day by our daughter-in-law. It helps, but it’s not quite the same.”
For now, and for a season after this one, there is a focus on winning something and a realisation this is as good a chance as they may get. A win on Saturday – or a highly unlikely Munster loss to Connacht – will give them a home semi-final against Ulster or Connacht, which could lead to a final down the road at Celtic Park. The size of the opportunity is lost on nobody at Glasgow.
A defeat, on the other hand, would almost certainly pitch them into a quarter-final and then, if they got through it, an away semi-final against Leinster. If they want to give themselves the best chance, Saturday is must-win.
“We got ourselves in a reasonable spot last year and limped home. We have much better momentum this time and a better team and a better understanding of the kind of game we’re trying to play. We’re more patient, we’re prepared to build more phases and we have a better balance to what we’re doing. We’re trending in the right direction but it’s a tough finish. Nothing is easy, but we’re throwing everything at it.”
Glasgow team: Hogg; Seymour; Steyn, Johnson; Matawalu; Hastings; Price; Bhatti, Brown (capt), Z Fagerson; Cummings; Gray; Harley, Gordon, M Fagerson. Replacements: Stewart, Allan, Rae, Tameilau, Wilson, G Horne, P Horne, Hughes