Glasgow Warriors 14
A FIRST match of the PRO14 season away to a team who have been playing together for months was always going to be demanding. But, while the Cheetahs showed off some of the superb teamwork that took them to a Currie Cup triumph at the start of the month, Glasgow were also the agents of their own undoing with a display that was rusty most of the time, and simply inept at others.
The Cheetahs were favourites for this Conference A opener in Bloemfontein given their fine domestic form had allowed them to develop real match sharpness, but a seven-tries-to-two victory against last season’s runners-up was surely more than they had dreamed of. It was certainly more than Dave Rennie had bargained for, and after the game the Warriors head coach admitted he had been surprised by just how far off the pace his players had been.
“Yeah, I was,” the head coach said. “We expected better. We weren’t good enough today. We were a couple of cogs off. You can get spanked in this competition and that’s what happened.
“We just didn’t so the basics well enough. Our set piece didn’t function, we didn’t tackle well enough: put those ingredients together and you’re going to struggle.
“They were good. They’re a well-oiled team, played together for a few months. We were miles away from where we needed to be. You can’t build pressure if you can’t hold on to the ball.”
Glasgow have 15 players absent on World Cup duty – 16, if you count Ali Price, who has now had surgery on the foot injury he sustained playing for Scotland against Ireland and is likely to be out of action for up to eight weeks. But a similar number were absent for much of February and March while the Six Nations Championship was on, and the Warriors won all five of the games they played when they were essentially a shadow side.
Last night, by contrast, they looked directionless – which contrasted starkly with the Cheetahs, who were superbly led by captain Ruan Pienaar. The former Ulster scrum-half looks like being a vital influence on his new team this season, and he gave immediate proof of his value here, claiming the first try of the new season after six minutes. Rhyno Smith broke to the edge of the Warriors 22, and although Henco Venter, the intended recipient of his pop-up pass, was unable to gather, the scrum-half was there to seize the loose ball and dash over the line. Pienaar converted, and minutes later took his team’s tally into double figures with a penalty after the Glasgow defence had strayed offside.
The visitors had a chance to open their account when awarded a penalty of their own, but they went for touch instead and their lineout drive was held up. Nick Grigg was unable to resume after being injured at the breakdown just before that award, and Andrew Davidson soon joined him on the sidelines after sustaining a head knock.
Such disruption was the last thing that an already disjointed Glasgow needed at that point, and they went further behind to another full score midway through the half as a result of some slack midfield marking. Tian Schoeman was tackled to the ground but rolled on and passed to the onrushing Dweba, who saw space opening up for him and raced through it to score from more than 30 metres out.
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The ease with which the hooker had sliced through the defence contrasted with the ponderous nature of the Glasgow attack, but, having failed to achieve much penetration with ball in hand, they found more joy on the half-hour mark with their foot. A long, low chip up the left by Rory Hughes turned the defence, and substitute lock Bruce Flockhart showed impressive dexterity to slide in and redirect the ball towards goal just before it went into touch. Nick Frisby won the race to touch down behind the line, and when Brandon Thomson added a conversion it looked like the Warriors were going to make a game of it after all.
Instead, they spent the remainder of the half on the back foot, and went further behind when Dweba scored his second try off the back of a lineout drive when a penalty had been sent to touch. Pienaar again converted to make it 24-7, and it could have got worse still for the Warriors in the last move before the interval Anthony Volmink broke up the left only for his hurried pass inside to be spilled by his captain.
Glasgow displayed a bit more urgency at the breakdown in the early minutes of the second half, spurred on by the arrival of 18-year-old scrum-half Jamie Dobie. They got their reward for that bright start when Robbie Nairn scored from a Thomson offload, and when the stand-off converted the gap between the teams was only ten points.
But the pattern that had followed their first try repeated itself, as the Cheetahs hit back within minutes to score through Smith. Pienaar converted, and from then on there was no doubt about the outcome.
Glasgow continued to make life difficult for themselves with a few lineouts that failed to find the jumper, not to mention a couple of penalties which failed to find touch. And, with the Cheetahs’ superior match fitness and morale becoming all the more evident in the final quarter, there were further tries from Junior Pokomela, Smith again and finally Sias Koen.
Only two missed conversions – one by the otherwise impeccable Pienaar, the other, after he had gone off, by Tian Schoeman – denied the home team their half-century. The only thing that came close to that tally was Glasgow’s missed-tackle count, which was over 40.
To make matters worse for Rennie, Kyle Steyn and Matt Fagerson joined Grigg and Davidson on the injury list with a hurt shoulder and a head knock respectively. With a long flight home to contend with, Friday night’s opening home game against Scarlets feels a little too close for comfort.
Cheetahs: R Smith; W Small-Smith, B van Rensburg, D Swanepoel (L Fouche, 54), A Volmink; T Schoeman, R Pienaar (captain, T Meyer, 65); O Nche (B Venter, 65), J Dweba (R Venter, 65), E de Jager (L de Bruin, 51), S Manjezi, W Steenkamp (J du Preez, 76), G Olivier (J Wiese, 41), J Pokomela (S Koen, 65), H Venter.
Glasgow Warriors: G Bryce; K Steyn (R Jackson, 58), N Grigg (R Nairn, 11), H Jones, R Hughes; B Thomson, N Frisby (J Dobie, 44); O Kebble (A Allan, 49), G Stewart (J Matthews, 71), D Rae (A Nicol, 62), A Davidson (B Flockhart, 18), T Swinson, R Harley, C Gibbins (captain), M Fagerson (C Fusaro, 58).
Referee: D Jones (Wales).
Scoring sequence (Cheetahs first): 5-0, 7-0, 10-0, 15-0, 17-0, 17-5, 17-7 22-7, 24-7 (half-time), 24-12, 24-14, 29-14, 31-14, 36-14, 41-14, 43-14, 48-14.
Scorers: Cheetahs: Tries: Pienaar, Dweba 2, Smith 2, Pokomela, Koen. Cons: Pienaar 5. Pen: Pienaar.
Glasgow: Tries: Frisby, Nairn. Con: Thomson 2.