Glasgow v Ulster: bench impact helps Warriors extend unbeaten run

Hosts find a different way to win on a wet night at Scotstoun

Lucio Sordoni celebrates Sione Vailanu's opening try for Glasgow Warriors. Image: ©Craig Watson
Lucio Sordoni celebrates Sione Vailanu's opening try for Glasgow Warriors. Image: ©Craig Watson

Glasgow Warriors 17

Ulster 11

DAVID BARNES @ Scotstoun

A BIG impact off the bench – particularly from Scotland squad members Jamie Bhatti, Fraser Brown, Simon Berghan and Ali Price – gave Warriors the momentum boost they needed to stretch their unbeaten run in all competitions to 10 matches. 

A late John Cooney penalty earned the visitors a losing bonus point which keeps them just ahead of Warriors in third place in the United Rugby Championship table, but the hosts won’t lose too much sleep over that.

They found a way to win on a night when their usual high-tempo approach got washed away by the incessant rain at Scotstoun, and they will now travel to South Africa for next weekend’s re-arranged match against the Lions in high-spirits – even if they will be without their Scotland contingent who will be on Six Nations duty in Paris.

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“Games are not always going to be easy,” said victorious head coach Franco Smith. “The closer we get to the final part of the season the more difficult it’s going to become. So, tonight was a classic example of a top-of-the-table clash. With finals lurking in the future that’s a type of rugby we need to learn to play as well. From that regard it was a big learning experience from our guys and we can take a lot of positives.”

The conditions were miserable, but Warriors have not been the habit of letting such earthly considerations dictate their style of play this season, and they were not initially minded to change their mindset in this game. Having won possession back straight from kick-off, they then sent a kickable penalty to touch as they looked for a grandstand opening, but there was no way round or through Ulster’s determined defence on this occasion, before a Sione Vailanu knock-on allowed the visitors to clear the danger.

Having survived that early onslaught, Ulster flashed their teeth when the quick-witted Billy Burns spotted Jacob Stockdale lurking unmarked on the left touchline and sent a penalty on halfway 40-yards across the park, instead of looking for touch,cthe bounce of the ball was not kind to the Irish winger.

The deadlock was finally broken when Warriors kicked a penalty to the corner, with a clean line-out take from Scott Cummings – making his comeback after breaking a toe last October – setting up a maul, and Vailanu getting the ball down.

Tom Jordan didn’t manage the touchline conversion, and Ulster’s response was swift and uncompromising, with the Northern Irishmen setting up camp for the next 10 minutes deep inside Glasgow’s 22, and they were aided in no small part by series of penalties conceded by the home team. The pressure finally told when blindside flanker Harry Sheridan barged over from a quick pick-up at the base of a close-range ruck with just under half an hour played.

Ulster continued to dominate during the final 10 minutes of the first half and it took some great work over the tackled man by Johnny Matthews to earn a home penalty which relieved the relentless pressure – but the same man was then culpable for handing the visitors a three-point lead on the stroke of half-time, with his arm wrapping round Burns’ neck to conceded a penalty on the stroke of half-time, which Nathan Doak fired home from halfway.


With the weather deteriorating, the start of the second half was scrappy, featuring several dropped balls, and the biggest talking point during this period was the arrival off the bench of John Cooney off the Ulster bench – with the Irish capped scrum-half on the precipice of a controversial Scotland call-up if you believe the Murrayfield mood music.

Ulster appeared to be slowly getting the upper hand, but without making it count on the scoreboard – before the Warriors bench clearance shifted momentum, and  another Scotland squad member in the shape of No 8 Jack Dempsey soon pushed the hosts back into the lead, powering over off the now familiar ploy of centre Stafford McDowall going up to collect line-out possession.

“That’s a compliment to the guys coming back from Scotland and coming into our environment and wanting to contribute in the way that they did,” said Smith, when asked about the bench impact. “That shows the belief and character in our team and that’s something to be really proud of.”

“There is always one or two things said and strategized at half-time,” he added. “We changed our strategy a little bit. I felt we didn’t kick the ball enough in the first half. Compliments to Ulster – they knew we were going to try to play. They defended really well.”

That was the decisive moment in the match, and Warriors stretched further ahead on 75 minutes when Brown bustled over following another powerful line-out maul.

Duncan Weir nailed the conversion from wide on the left for good measure, before Cooney slotted his injury time penalty.



Teams –

Glasgow Warriors: J McKay; C Forbes,S McDowall, S Johnson, O Smith; T Jordan (D Weir 67), J Dobie (A Price, 56); N McBeth (J Bhatti 56), J Matthews (F Brown 56), L Sordoni ( S Berghan 56), L Bean, S Cummings (J Du Preez 56), T Gordon, S Vailanu (E Ferrie 76), J Dempsey.

Ulster: E McIlroy; B Moxham (C Gilroy 56), J Hume ( L Marshall 76), S Moore, J Stockdale; B Burns, N Doak (J Cooney 50); E  O’Sullivan (R Sutherland 45), T Stewart (J Andrew 61), J Toomaga-Allen (A Warwick 67), A O’Connor (C Izuchukwu 67), K Treadwell, H Sheridan, J Murphy, N Timoney (G Jones, 61).

Referee: Craig Evans (WRU)


Scorers –

Glasgow Warriors: Tries: Vailanu, Dempsey, Brown; Con: Weir.

Ulster: Tries: Sheridan: Pen: Doak, Cooney.

Scoring sequence (Glasgow first): 5-0; 5-5; 5-8 (h-t) 10-8; 15-8; 17-8; 17-11.

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About David Barnes 3263 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. I don’t care how we win…its not always going to be pretty or dynamic. But the momentum gained from Franco’s arrival, of which I was sceptical at first, and the clear change in squad outlook is exactly what Glasgow needed.

    More of this please…

  2. Great to see one Scottish team going well. Edinburgh well off the pace tonight, congrats Glasgow.

    Agree with others that Franco seems a great coach, Mike B prob OK, but our squad is much weaker when we get down to the 2nd string.

    Glasgow also have a much easier run in, think Edinburgh will struggle for top 8 now.

    • Intriguing point re squad depth. Most Weegie fans, me included, didn’t think that we had the squad depth either last season, or the start to this season…. But Franco and his coaching team somehow have managed to get the best out of their stars, reinvigorating the likes of Huw Jones, while turning the “second string” into real competitors like Lewis Bean – real competition for places and rewarding performance over reputations = A competitive squad not a 1st and 2nd 15. Still think that Blair is a good coach, but needs better support to blend with his style.

  3. Committed and disciplined in defence. Smart and tactically aware in attack. Really good performance against a serious side. We just need to look after the ball in contact a little better. Too many turnovers would be my only (minor) moan

  4. Franco Smith has first improved the fitness levels and then provided a pragmatic approach to playing. However the naivety in the last three minutes kicking away possession when all they had to do was pick and drive would have prevented the Ulster bonus point.
    I wonder whether Ali Price might be available next week since he is currently third joice for Scotland?

  5. Good win in difficult conditions against a top side – feels like a belief and momentum is building reflected in the attendance – great to be in a full Scotstoun again despite the weather.

  6. Not a night for purists, but a great win for Glasgow. Great to see Cummings back and having a good game, some great runs. It was a night for Glasgow’s bomb squad to turn up and claim the game. Thought Ali Prices box kicking was spot on while Dobbie’s was always to far to chase effectively. Dempsey yet again worthy of MOM . Defense held up well in tough conditions against a tough team. I think we can say also that Mr Smith is the coach Glasgow needed, he has the team playing really well.

    • Big win against a top Irish province. Franco Smith seems to have been an inspirational choice as coach. So many of the Glasgow players playing for Scotland seem to have reached another level of performance 🐻

    • Price came on and applied some class and control – one kick out on the full apart – he was excellent. Dobie’s kicking as you say was consistently poor and the rest of his play not much better to average
      Great win for Glasgow given the relative numbers lost to national teams, and the wind dropping 2nd half

  7. That’s a great win against a very good Ulster side and yes a wee bit frustrating to give them a point at the end but would have taken that score at the start. Some of our back up players have really played well the last few months with the front row doing well and the back row outstanding. Gordon has been great recently and Vailanu is consistently good. Next week away to the Lions will be tough with none of the Scotland squad but with the depth they have developed they should still be competitive.

  8. A win is a win – and considering the possession and pressure Ulster exerted especially in that first half, it is a very good 4 points. Defence was outstanding by both sides, the difference being our maul. We may rue not closing the game out better tho and letting Ulster take a LB point (nothing more than they deserved on the day)…

    The starting 15 looked determined to play a certain way and not to the conditions almost trying too hard? Bench made a huge difference, we started playing in the right half of the park, cut the penalties out and lo and behold won 😁. That LB point still niggles tho….

    • Not a night for fast rugby, awful conditions.

      BP for us (and denying them a LP) would of moved us up to 3rd in league and something i thought was achievable with 5 minutes to go.

      Considering Ulster were missing very few players however, and we had a mostly 2nd string out it was an impressive result.

      Lewis bean is someone i considered not good enough for Pro rugby at the start of the season, he has quietly been excellent during this win streak.

      • agree about Bean, I felt the same but TBF he works very hard and is a big (no pun intended) part of our set scrum
        I’d also mention Sordoni, who I assumed was a sort of panic signing due tot he tight head injuries to Bergan (at the time), Pieretto and I think another. He started poorly but has improved every game and is a top asset now

      • Regards Bean – totally agree and its quite a success story. He is a big unit but looked like he lacked the basic skills particularly in contact but he’s clearly worked on his game with the coaches to improve his allround game and with getting plenty game time he has really improved. Doesn’t do the glamorous work but a real nuggety 2nd row who clearly works well in the scrum and strong in the tackle. May his improvement continue.

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