GLASGOW WARRIORS 34
THERE has been a growing notion in Scottish rugby that Edinburgh, while perhaps not a better team than Glasgow, have at least learned the knack of how to beat their rivals. If it sounded plausible enough before the start of this game given their two previous wins over the Warriors this season, it had evaporated long before the start of a surprisingly one-sided match.
Both teams had a lot to play for, and even if Benetton’s earlier win over Zebre meant that the most Edinburgh could manage was a Champions Cup fourth-place play-off, that should have been sufficient motivation for them. But they looked dull and dispirited almost from the off, against opponents who were absolutely up for the challenge.
With Conference A rivals Munster kicking off against Connacht at the same time, Glasgow needed to win to be sure of finishing top of the heap and going straight through to a home semi-final against Ulster or Connacht. They did it in style, winning the try count 4-1, and that despite having very little possession for long stretches of the second half.
They were in charge of this match from the opening minutes, getting the better of Edinburgh in just about every aspect of the game. Two first-half tries helped them to a 20-3 half-time lead, and if the second half was less impressive, it was just as competent a display from Dave Rennie’s side.
By the time Stuart Hogg got the game under way, Edinburgh knew the most they were playing for was a place in the European play-off against Ospreys – and they would only pip Scarlets to that by getting two points or more from this game. They never came close to even threatening such an outcome.
Illness to Jonny Gray had forced the home side into a late change to their starting line-up, with Ryan Wilson coming off the bench for his first action since being injured against Ireland and Rob Harley moving up from back row to lock. There was also a change to their bench, with Kevin Bryce replacing Grant Stewart as substitute hooker. The loss of Gray’s prowess in the lineout and in defence might well have increased the pressure on a pack that had been second best by some way to their rivals in their two previous meetings this season, but any nerves soon vanished as the Warriors took a 10-point lead in as many minutes. An Adam Hastings penalty got the scoring under way, and then Sam Johnson, lurking on the left wing, profited from a superb offload by Niko Matawalu to claim the game’s first try after jinking inside Henry Pyrgos.
Hastings’ conversion emphasised the early advantage, and even when Simon Hickey got Edinburgh off the mark with a penalty there was little sign that Cockerill’s men were going to make a game of it. Battling even to get out of their own half, they went further behind after 20 minutes after Johnson and Ali Price combined to strip them at the breakdown. Hogg broke clear, and the scrum-half was up in support to touch down behind the posts and give Hastings an easy two points.
Things went from bad to worse for Edinburgh as full-back Darcy Graham had to go off with an injury. Patience, usually one of the capital side’s key virtues, continued to be conspicuous by its absence as they fell further behind after half an hour. Having finally established a useful platform in the Glasgow half, the visitors were stripped of possession there – and then once again 60 metres downfield after Dougie Fife had failed to deal with a punted clearance. The upshot was a penalty for offside, and Hastings made no mistake.
Greater solidity in defence had been a notable feature of the Warriors’ last two league wins, and it was again in evidence when Edinburgh tried to get their lineout maul going after a penalty to touch. The ploy is usually a profitable one for them, so it was no surprise when they tried it again in the last action of the half – and similarly it was hardly a shock when Glasgow again held them at bay.
After looking so dispirited in the first 40, Edinburgh began the second half in far livelier fashion, but failed to force their way over the home line after opting to scrum a series of penalties. Winger Duhan van der Merwe then crossed the line after barging his way through a couple of tackles, but the replay clearly showed he had strayed into touch first, and Glasgow were able to clear from the resultant lineout.
That long passage of play was a warning to the Warriors, nonetheless, that the game was not quite in the bag. It was one they heeded, and two minutes after coming so close to conceding, they scored their own third try. Matt Fagerson got the move going with a midfield break, and after a sustained drive through the middle, a looping pass by Hastings put Matawalu in on the left wing. The No 10’s conversion, taken after a long delay for Pyrgos to be stretchered off, made it 27-3. Edinburgh captain Stuart McInally also had to be carried off, and although there were still 15 minutes to play, much of the heat had gone out of the game.
There was still time for the bonus-point try, though, as a George Horne kick ahead was gathered by Hogg then passed on to Tommy Seymour to touch down on the right. Van der Merwe then got the slightest of consolations with a converted try two minutes from time, but it was still a night of bitter disappointment for Edinburgh, whose season has petered out after promising so much.
Glasgow Warriors: S Hogg; T Seymour, K Steyn, S Johnson (P Horne 65), N Matawalu (R Hughes 65); A Hastings, A Price (G Horne 58); J Bhatti (A Allan 69), F Brown (capt, K Bryce 69), Z Fagerson (D Rae 65), R Wilson, S Cummings (K McDonald 69), R Wilson (T Tameilau 65), T Gordon, M Fagerson.
Edinburgh: D Graham (M Bennett 21, J Baggott 58); D Fife, J Johnstone, C Dean, D van der Merwe; S Hickey, H Pyrgos (C Shiel 58); P Schoeman (R Sutherland 64), S McInally (capt, R Ford 63), W Nel (S Berghan 59), B Toolis, G Gilchrist, J Barclay (C Hunter-Hill 67), H Watson, V Mata (M Bradbury 58).
Scorers: Glasgow: Tries: Johnson, Price, Hastings, Seymour. Cons: Hastings 4. Pens: Hastings 2.
Edinburgh: Try: Van der Merwe. Con: Hickey Pen: Hickey.
Scoring sequence (Glasgow first): 3-0, 8-0, 10-0, 10-3, 15-3, 17-3, 20-3 half-time, 25-3, 27-3, 32-3, 34-3, 34-8, 34-10.
Referee: M Adamson (Scotland).