DURING a long playing career which saw him win over 60 Scotland caps, Jim Hamilton played in derbies in the Midlands, the West Country, London and France. But for him, none of those can compare in intensity to the 1872 Cup, in which he competed during his three years with Edinburgh.
Now a pundit with Premier Sports, the former lock has been hugely impressed by both his old club and by Glasgow this season, and believes that their recent victories in Europe against Saracens and Exeter respectively augur well for the quality of rugby that will be offered up at Scotstoun on Monday and then in Edinburgh on 2 January. “The wins against two of the biggest teams in Europe underline where the two teams are,” Hamilton said. “Without getting too carried away, both teams have been phenomenal this season, they really have.
“And this game is going to be a phenomenal game. I don’t think it’s going to be an easy game for either team.”
The arrival of Mike Blair as head coach has arguably been the biggest factor in Edinburgh’s improved form, but Hamilton has also been hugely impressed by Emiliano Boffelli, the Argentinian full-back who only joined up with the squad late last month after representing his country in the Autumn Nations Series. And at Glasgow, he believes that two of their summer signings, No 8 Jack Dempsey and full-back Josh McKay, have had a similar impact.
“I have played with a couple of Argentine guys before at Leicester, and played against Argentina and played with players like Marcelo Bosch at Saracens. Great human beings: they do have that Latino flare.
“Boffelli played against Ireland, rocks up to Edinburgh, freezing cold – how interested was he going to be? To watch that game, his first-touch score against the Dragons, he had been in Edinburgh just for a few days so it shows the appetite he has got.
“Edinburgh have a player in his prime in Boffelli and he has the skill set to play across the back three. He’s a world-class player.
“At Glasgow, for me Dempsey has been fantastic – what a signing – and Mackay as well. They’re players that have slotted in naturally.
“McKay is a brilliant player. He comes with unbelievable credentials. Anybody who plays for Canterbury in New Zealand is going to be a good player with the foundations they have got.
“Dempsey, with Rory Darge, in the make-up of the Glasgow back row looks brilliant. It’s hard to come by sixes, sevens, No 8s that can carry the ball time and time again with that kind of physicality, and in Dempsey it seems Glasgow have a real talent that offers that balance across the back row. Without pumping his tyres too much, he’s been a standout. Him and Darge especially.”
Leicester’s rivalry with Northampton can be fierce, as can Gloucester’s with Bath. But Hamilton sees an extra dimension in the Scottish derby that is simply not there in those two or in the others he has experienced. The fact that there are only two professional teams in the country is part of the explanation for that, but, with the Six Nations Championship now just a few weeks away, the biggest factor is the individual head-to-head competition for places in the Scotland team.
“The Edinburgh-Glasgow derby is so different because of the fact that you’re mates with the players you’re playing against and the fact that it’s a Scottish trial. There is that old-school element to it.
“In the Premiership it felt like there was a wider picture the way the seasons were structured there. The Edinburgh-Glasgow one, we weren’t that competitive in Europe, so a lot of it came down to the derby game – and the fact that it was Christmas as well, I think that adds to it. The derbies in the Premiership and in France would fall however the fixtures fell.
“We always used to laugh and joke about it: you win that first game and it would make your Christmas and New Year slightly better. But it did consume your Christmas.
“It’s about winning matches, but it’s also about playing for Scotland. You know the Scotland coach is going to be there.
“Every year I played against Alastair Kellock, it was more than just winning the game: there was always something more. And you only have to look at the two teams coming up against each other in terms of the Six Nations.
“And the fact that Scotland are now so competitive . . . It isn’t the case that certain players are a shoo-in, no matter what position you look at.
“Rory Darge: is he going to come through? Is Hamish Watson going to play in the derby? Because I think Rory Darge is knocking on the door massively now.”
Both 1872 Cup matches are live and exclusive on Premier Sports. The broadcast of Glasgow v Edinburgh on 27 December starts at 6pm, and the return leg on 2 January begins at 1pm.