Glasgow Warriors 12
DAVID BARNES @ Scotstoun Stadium
JOB done, and Glasgow head coach Franco Smith ranked this as one of his team’s most pleasing performances since he arrived in the west of Scotland late last summer – because it was a triumph of substance over style. Under a deluge of rain, Warriors recovered from a slow start to secure the win they needed to book a home play-off quarter-final draw with one game of the regular URC season still to play.
That final league match is at home to Connacht next Saturday, and it is safe to say that some of the players who weathered the conditions and a fully-committed Scarlets performance in this game will be given the weekend off to recover and refresh ahead of the team’s next major challenge – which will once again be against Scarlets in Llanelli the following weekend when a place in the final of the Challenge Cup will be up for grabs.
“Who predicted that kind of weather? I know it’s Scotland, but I’m not sure anyone would have expected it to be quite like that,” said Warriors’ South African coach. “I’m really glad we grinded it out. That’s the type of games we’ll face going into the play-offs, [because] quarter-finals and semi-finals are always tight.”
“That should be a big benefit for us. We found a way to win, which was fantastic to see. It was a really satisfying night in that regard for us. Sometimes you must have these tough, tight games. The weather obviously played a big role, but we found a way to win and it’s great to have a home quarter-final to look forward to.”
Warriors made a pig’s ear of collecting the kick-off, and Scarlets took advantage by battling through two dozen phases on the home 22 before Jamie Bhatti conceded a penalty for hands in a ruck which Dan Jones had no problem turning into three points.
By now, the skies had opened, and Warriors continued to struggle to find a way into the match, with basic errors like squint line-out throws costing them possession. Jones extended Scarlets’ lead on 13 minutes when Sam Johnson was penalised for a high tackle on Kieran Hardy.
When a penalty kicked to the corner gave Warriors a chance to rumble that usually reliable maul over from close range on 17 minutes, it came to nothing because they lost the line-out at the front, with the torrential rain making continuity a near impossibility for both teams.
Slowly but surely, Warriors began to find their feet, reverting to a kicking game which Scarlets struggled to cope with and an Ali Price box-kick which bounced into Sione Vailanu‘s hands, then a clever toe-poke behind from Tom Jordan forced Tom Rogers to carry back over his own line. From the scrum-five, Warriors attacked hard, but Scarlets stood strong, and Ryan Wilson was held up over the line.
Finally, after weathering another minor Scarlets storm, Warriors got their side of the scoreboard rolling with four minutes left in the half. Good hands allowed Huw Jones and Cole Forbes to make ground in the wide channels, and after a bustling break from Johnny Matthews, a not rolling away penalty was ent to the corner. This time the line-out was caught cleanly in the middle by Wilson, and Vialanu burst from the back of the maul with a ferocity which was impossible for the three visiting defenders to withstand.
Tom Jordan’s conversion attempt from wide on the left was off target meaning that Scarlets retained a single-point lead going into the break, and they then struck first in the second half when Jones fired home a scrum penalty, in his last involvement in the match before being replaced by Wales international Rhys Patchell.
All of a sudden, Warriors managed to generate some momentum, with a scrum penalty quickly followed by a maul penalty rousing the Scotstoun faithful, and that in turn spurred the team on as they grabbed the lead for the first time in the match with 54 minutes played when Fraser Brown finished off a line-out maul.
Jordan fired home the conversion, and Warriors sensed an opportunity to kill-off their opponents, but they couldn’t find a way to extend their lead, and Scarlets nearly delivered a knock-out counter-punch when second-row Vaea Fifita stole possession from the base of a ruck just inside the home 22 then galloped the length of the pitch to touch-down in the corner.
It was an excellent piece of opportunism and athleticism, but referee Chris Busby referred it to the TMO, who ruled that the Tongan had swooped for the ball from an offside position, meaning Warriors breathed a massive sigh of relief.
“We’re really happy,” said man-of-the-match Zander Fagerson aftewards. “It was a big effort from the whole pack. Our pack love to scrum and we knew tonight would be a big battle against a good Scarlets pack.
“We got the job done, but we know we need to back it up in a couple of weeks when we play them again at the Parc y Scarlets.
“I think we’re getting better every week. We left a few points out there and could have scored more. We could have been more ruthless. We want to get better and it’s an exciting time to be part of this squad.”
Glasgow Warriors: H Jones K Steyn, S McDowall, S Johnson, C Forbes; T Jordan, A Price (J Dobie 61); J Bhatti (N McBeth 61), J Matthews (F Brown 48), Z Fagerson (S Berghan 61), L Bean (R Gray, 48), J du Preez, R Wilson (S Cummings 45), M Fagerson (R Darge 72), S Vailanu.
Scarlets: T Rogers; S Evans, I Nicholas, E James (J Roberts 64), R Conbeer; D Jones (R Patchell 50), K Hardy (D Blacker 72); W Jones (S Thomas 48), S Evans (D Hughes 48), S Wainwright (J Sebastian 48), M Jones, V Fifita, W Shenton (A Shingler 50), J Macleod, C Tuipulotu.
Referee: Chris Busby (Ireland)
Glasgow Warriors: Tries: Vailanu, Brown; Con: Jordan.
Scarlets: Pen: Jones 3.
Scoring sequence (Glasgow first): 0-3; 0-6; 5-6 (h-t); 5-9; 10-9; 12-9.