Brewery deal leaves Scots rugby feeling the effects . . .
New optimism in game is epitomised by burgeoning interest in 1872 Cup clashes
ALOT has happened since Scotland got knocked out of the World Cup in that traumatic one-point defeat by Australia, but the feelgood factor is hanging on. Caledonian Brewery representatives yesterday cited it as the main reason for renewing their partnership with the Scottish Rugby Union and the union are banking on the same optimism to produce bumper crowds for the two 1872 Cup derby games over Christmas and New Year.
For the players, on the other hand, it is a strange time. Memories of the World Cup are still there, as is the frustration at the way it ended; there are huge, important Guinness PRO12 and European matches to play before Edinburgh host the first of the derby games in a little more than a month but they know people are already starting to focus on the local battles ahead.
“It is on the horizon but there is still quite a bit of rugby to go,” pointed out Sean Lamont, the Glasgow Warriors wing. “It was a strange and disappointing couple of weeks with the Paris thing and then just not getting off to a good start against Northampton last weekend. That is what we’ve mostly focused on – looking to get back to winning ways this week. I’m sure as time goes on things will build up.”
The brewery deal was announced by Alastair Campbell, the managing director, who pointed out that with the encouraging, though ultimately frustrating, World Cup campaign hard on the heels of Glasgow Warriors winning the Guinness PRO12 title in May and Edinburgh reaching a showpiece European final, there was a positive mood around the sport.
To help build that further, they are subsidising buses to be laid on to help ferry supporters from city to city during the weekends after Christmas and New Year, with the clubs aiming for record crowds, especially for the BT Murrayfield match.
“There’s something strange about local rivalries,” said Lamont. “You know the opposition players, it’s almost like a sibling rivalry, playing your mates. We trained with these [Edinburgh] guys over the summer. You know their traits, but it often just comes down to some pretty ugly rugby.
“You have planned to do this and that but it often descends into a bit of a fist fight; the pretty rugby goes out the window and you brute-force it. It’s a good little thing, especially over Christmas and New Year, with the good crowds. That’s the best part: vocal crowd and a special atmosphere. The more Glasgow fans that travel for the first game the better for us.”
The danger is that in all that hype, the bread-and-butter is forgotten, but Lamont, who won his 100th Scotland cap during the World Cup, is too experienced to look that far ahead, and prefers to highlight the importance of this weekend’s match against Treviso for his club after their European defeat to Northampton at the weekend.
“It’s important we bounce back, we can’t afford to drop more points in the league. We’re sitting sixth in the table and if we want to get that top four slot and challenge for another title we’ve got to be taking every point we can and dropping as few as possible. Treviso are a good side, they are always very physical and if we’re not on form they’ll be a banana peel,” he said.
“We’ve got to be careful about not being complacent and expecting an easy ride – that’s when you get stung. We just want to get back on our form after not playing well against Northampton and get a bit of our confidence back. Play our brand of rugby we know how to play and the result will take care of itself.”
Over at Edinburgh, the Scottish element is new to John Hardie, the flanker, but he has seen it all before in his native New Zealand and has a fair idea what to expect, though in his case his colleagues are heading into December on the back of some more encouraging European performances restoring some confidence after a couple of wobbles in the league.
“It was good to get back onto a winning note against a couple of European sides but it is going to be a step up again this week back in the PRO12 against the Dragons,” he warned. “It is going to be pretty full on; every game is going to be tough.
“I have heard so much about the  Cup and the rivalry. I know all about what rivalry like that is about from back home so it is really exciting to, hopefully, be a part of it and play against some mates, familiar faces. It is something I really look forward to.”
RIVALS: Edinburgh’s John Hardie (left) joins Glasgow’s Sean Lamont to promote the 1872 Cup derbies.