Glasgow Warriors 29
DAVID BARNES @ Scotstoun Stadium
WINNING this match was not a necessity given that their fourth place finish at the end of the league section of this URC campaign was already in the bag, but managing to get over the line with their noses just ahead of a determined Connacht side who had a dominant scrum early on is certainly not going to do Glasgow Warriors’ morale any harm as they enter the knock-out stage of the season.
Franco Smith‘s sids will be battle-hardened and confident when they take on the Scarlets in the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup next Saturday evening, although they could have done without the head injury suffered by Huw Jones and the leg injury suffered by Jamie Dobie which now makes both those players a doubt for that match.
Warriors will hope for a more polished all-round performance in Llanelli, but the really important thing to take out of this contest is that they are still in a winning habit (six on the bounce and 15 victories plus a draw from their last 17 games) which is massive.
“Winning was the most important thing for us tonight against a motivated team from Connacht,” acknowledged Smith. “I’ve known Andy Friend [Connacht head coach] for a long time and his teams are very, very well prepared. With them fighting for a guaranteed Heineken Cup place tonight, their motivation, in certain ways, was maybe even more than ours.
“I’m just glad we hung on. There are a lot of lessons to be learned, because that’s how it’s going to be going forward: tight games.”
Warriors started impressively, pressurising Connacht into conceding a line-out just outside their 22 starlight from the kick-off and then launching ferocious passage of play which featured powerful midfield bursts from Stafford McDowall and Jones, before Rory Darge sucked in three defenders the clicked a backhanded offload to send Jones home.
Tom Jordan, who was becoming the first Warrior to feature in every round of the league season since Bernardo Stortoni in 2009-10 – a particularly impressive feat given that this is his debut season in full-time pro rugby – slotted the conversion.
Connacht bounced back with Jack Carty‘s kick behind being chased hard to push Jones into carry the ball back over his own line, meaning a scrum-five which Warriors tight-head Lucio Sordoni twice wheeled before referee Italian Gianluca Gnecchi lost patience and awarded a penalty try.
The home scrum continued to struggle, but their play around the park was sharp, and they regained the lead when stand-off Jordan just before contact, which spooked the visiting defence into stepping off the tackle, and the New Zealander found himself streaking under the posts unchallenged.
Warriors lost Dobie, a scrum-half playing on the wing, when he fell awkwardly after a high tackle and suffered a leg injury, and they were then reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes when Scott Cummings was sent to the sin-bin for an obstruction as Coalin Blade chased his own kick ahead, and Jack Carty stepped up to kick the three easy points which reduced it to a four-point game.
Connacht took further advantage of the extra man when a wild McDowall set up a long period camped inside the Warriors 22, before visiting No 8 Cian Prendergast piled over team-handed from short range following a five-metre tap penalty, with Carty adding the extras.
But Warriors didn’t panic, and they struck back before Cummings had returned to the fray with Ali Price finishing off on the left after some sharp inter-play featuring McDowall, Jack Dempsey and Jordon.
Back to full strength, Cole Forbes thought be had claimed try number three a few minutes later at the end of a sweeping counter-attack sparked by Sam Johnson gathering a loose-ball and Jordan ghosting through a gap to escape downfield, but the TMO identified that the ball had then been dislodged forward by Tiernan O’Halloran as he landed an excellent cover tackle on the linking Jones, so the score was correctly not given.
Jones had hit the deck hard and was caught inadvertently on the back of the head by the covering Cathal Forde during that passage of play. The in-form utility back looked groggy as he made his way from the field for an HIA, which he didn’t pass.
With Zander Fagerson on at tight-head for the concussed Lucio Sordoni, Glasgow’s scrum started to get on top, and that provided the platform from which they spent thew final few minutes of the first half battering the Connacht line, before a knock-on right in front of the posts by Johnson let the visitors off the hook.
Glasgow Warriors’ and indeed Scotland’s reliance on Fagerson being available for more games than he misses is quite frightening, and highlights the dangers of relying so heavily on an overseas recruitment programme which has had very limited success in recruiting players in the positions where this country has most need.
The third quarter was a scrappy stalemate, with the main talking point being another injury in the home back-line, this time suffered by Forbes, which meant Warriors played the final 25 minutes with back-row Matt Fagerson doing a pretty credible impression of an authentic three-quarter.
Glasgow dominated this period but some heroic Connacht defence meant the bonus-point try did not arrive until just after the hour mark, when Johnny Matthews showed impressive body-contortionist technique to force the downward pressure after a line-out maul had rumbled over the line, for his 12th try of the season. Horne nailed the touchline conversion for good measure.
Horne and Carty exchanged penalties as the game began to meander, before Seamus Hurley-Langton bustling over for a try converted by Carty made for a tense final five minutes.
When Shane Jennings and John Porch back-pedalled Johnson by 30 yards, it set up an off-the-feet penalty, Carty decided it was out of his reach from 45 yards and kicked towards the corner, and a malfunctioned Connacht maul meant Warriors held on for the win.
Glasgow Warriors: H Jones (D Miotti. 37); C Forbes (M Fagerson 55), S McDowall©, S Johnson, J Dobie ( G Horne 11); T Jordan, A Price; A Dell (J Bhatti 45), F Brown (J Matthews 45), L Sordoni (Z Fagerson 30), S Cummings, R Gray (J du Preez, 52), R Darge, S Vailanu, J Dempsey.
Connacht: T O’Halloran (S Jennings 68); J Porch, T Farrell (T Daly 59), C Forde, B Ralston; J Carty ©, C Blade (K Marmion 54); D Buckley (P Dooley 17), D Tierney-Martin (E de Buitléar 50), F Bealham (S Illo, 40), O Dowling (D Murray, 54), N Murray, J Murphy, C Oliver, C Prendergast (S Hurley-Langton 40).
Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi (Italy)
Glasgow Warriors: Tries: Jones, Jordan, Price, Matthews; Con: Jordan, Horne 2
Connacht: Tries: Penalty Try, Prendergast; Con: Carty; Pen: Carty.
Scoring sequence (Glasgow Warriors first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-7; 12-7; 14-7; 14-10; 140-15; 14-17; 19-17 (h-t) 24-17; 26-17;
Yellow cards –
Glasgow Warriors: Cummings (23 mins)