Glasgow Warriors 43
STUART BATHGATE @ Scotstoun
GLASGOW continue to keep up the pressure on Munster at the top of PRO14 Conference A and are now just a point behind the leaders after this convincing six-try victory. Perhaps more importantly, the Warriors are now a massive 14 points ahead of Connacht, who began the night in third place but are now locked in a battle for third place with Ospreys, Cardiff and the Cheetahs.
George Horne grabbed the first try within the opening minute, Tim Swinson got the second, and there were doubles for Grant Stewart and substitute Robbie Nairn, while Brandon Thomson was on fine form with the boot. It was a convincing and highly entertaining win, albeit over opponents who looked out of sorts in many respects. While the game was too loose and frenetic at times, the Warriors defended well when they had to, and attacked with real verve almost from first to last.
While Glasgow enjoyed a big win, Munster had a far harder-fought battle at Ospreys, eventually winning 19-13. Warriors head coach Dave Rennie is well aware there is a lot of work still to be done before a place in the play-offs is arithmetically certain, but he was pretty pleased, nonetheless, with a result achieved without most of his first-choice players.
“Cardiff can get a little bit closer if they beat Edinburgh, but this was a really important game for us,” he said. “We’ve picked up 14 points since the international boys have been out, which is great.
“I’m always nervous when we start quick, cos you’re worried that the boys think it’s going to be easier than it really is. It was a pretty good performance, I thought. Really clinical. We had some young men out there who really fronted for us.”
The game got off to the best possible start for the home team, with a full score within the opening 50 seconds. Connacht’s kick-off was mauled back to halfway by the Glasgow pack, a tactic that both took the Irishmen by surprise and drew too many of their players into a tight defence. When the ball came out to the backs around halfway, a swift move from left to right gained considerable ground before Stafford McDowall delivered the coup de grace with a pass back inside to Horne. The scrum-half scampered Thomson added the two points, and the Warriors had the early initiative.
Connacht responded well to that setback, and would have got on the scoreboard with a try in the left corner but for a forward pass by Kyle Godwin which was intended for the unmarked Stephen Fitzgerald. They should also have got off the mark just following that incident, but Conor Fitzgerald sent a penalty wide of the posts from the edge of the 22 after Glasgow had offended at the scrum.
A Thomson penalty put his team 10-0 up, a lead that gave no indication of the extent to which Connacht had got back into the contest in open play. A score for the visitors looked like being only a matter of time, however, and it arrived when Niko Matawalu’s ill-advised dash out of the defensive line gave them an overlap on the right. Stephen Fitzgerald profited from it to touch in the corner from a scoring pass by Tiernan O’Halloran, but Conor Fitzgerald was again off target with the boot.
The game continued to be played at a frantic pace, and at times cried out for someone to slow things down and inject some structure into proceedings. But the commitment of both teams to all-out attack at least ensured an entertaining match, and Glasgow were further rewarded for their adventurous play when Swinson scored their second try from close range after Horne had been hauled down just short.
Thomson again converted, and repeated the deed just before the interval as the Warriors rammed home their advantage. A penalty to touch led to another rolling maul from around 10 metres out, and Stewart applied the finishing touch.
More of the same
Connacht lock James Cannon was yellow-carded for a team offence in the build-up to that third Glasgow try, and in the last kick of the half Conor Fitzgerald compounded his team’s problems by missing a penalty.
Glasgow pressed for the bonus point straight from the restart, and they eventually got it after a spell in which the contest became bogged down in midfield. Still playing with a man advantage, they steadily made the pressure tell, and Stewart finished off with a well-timed burst from close range.
Thomson’s conversion took his team’s tally to beyond 30 points, which might have been the signal for the game to be tightened up. Instead, the Warriors continued to play in exuberant style, even though a rash of substitutions hampered their flow.
Connacht kept fighting for further scores, and after a couple of near misses they got one when Paul Boyle finished off from a metre out after his fellow-replacement Caolin Blade had been stopped short.
Stung by that score, Glasgow hit back to claim their fifth through Nairn after a series of carefully controlled drives by the forwards. Tom Daly got one back for Connacht, but Nairn had the last word with his second try after collecting a delicately weighted chip ahead by Ruaridh Jackson.
Glasgow Warriors: R Jackson; K Steyn, P Kelly (R Nairn 57), S McDowall, N Matawalu (R Hughes 49); B Thomson, G Horne (N Frisby 67); O Kebble (J Bhatti 55), G Stewart (K Bryce 71), S Halanukonuka (A Nicol 65), T Swinson (T Gordon 65), S Cummings, R Harley, C Fusaro (captain), A Ashe (M Fagerson 62).
Connacht: T O’Halloran; S Fitzgerald, K Godwin, T Daly, M Healy (Kelleher 67); C Fitzgerald (P Robb 51), K Marmion (C Blade 57); D Buckley (P McCabe 54), D Heffernan (S Delahunt 51), F Bealham (C Carey 52), C Gallagher, J Cannon (J Maksymiw 67), E McKeon, C Fainga’a (P Boyle 55), J Butler (captain).
Referee: B Whitehouse (Wales).
Glasgow Warriors: Tries: Horne, Swinson, Stewart 2, Nairn 2. Cons: Thomson 5. Pen: Thomson.
Connacht: Tries: S Fitzgerald, Boyle, Daly. Con: Godwin.
Scoring sequence (Glasgow first): 5-0; 7-0; 10-0, 10-5; 15-5; 17-5; 22-5; 24-5 (h-t) 29-5; 31-5; 31-10; 36-10; 38-10; 38-15; 38-17; 43-17.
Yellow card –