Glasgow Warriors 13
ONE bonus-point gained which might be crucial when the Champions Cup spots for next season are being passed around, but Warriors should view this as a missed chance to pick up a morale-boosting win against one of the top teams in the PRO14.
Warriors are now 11 point adrift of third placed Ospreys in Conference A and time is running out. With four games left to play in this PR014 campaign, including Leinster away next Sunday, they are not quite looking for a miracle yet, but it is getting to that stage.
This was not exactly a game they should have won but they certainly could have with a bit more composure at key moments – most notably when they let Ulster right back into the match after both of Adam Hastings’ penalties either side of half-time.
Having said all that, Warriors were trounced by the same opposition when the two sides met three months ago, so this was a big improvement, and head coach Danny Wilson was clearly encouraged by the way his team had gone about their business.
“It was an improvement,” he said. “The last time we played Ulster we had 40 points shoved on us and weren’t even close to being competitive. Granted, it’s different personnel but I thought we were extremely competitive tonight. Tight games come down to big moments and a couple of big moments cost us.
“But the attitude was outstanding from the boys. I thought we played some good rugby and defended well at times. The one thing we need to really improve is control at breakdown which stopped us going through the amount of phases we need to break them down.
“Credit to the boys. They turned up tonight and certainly put in a performance with pride, but there’s lots to work on.
Fast out the blocks
Glasgow dominated the opening quarter but couldn’t convert possession and territory into points. They turned over the ball at several key moments, and failed to secure decent possession from a number of set-pieces in promising positions.
It looked like Ulster had shown them how to be ruthless in the red-zone on 20 minutes when Marcell Coetzee broke from the back of a line-out maul on his team’s first visit to the Warriors 22 and powered past a passive Leone Nakarawa on his way to the line, but the home defence somehow managed to stop the ball being grounded.
The big Fijian, who is swapping Scotstoun for Ravenshill next season, blew hot and more often cold all match. One or two of his trademark offloads went to hand, but there was a few loose balls as well, and he certainly didn’t dominate proceedings in the way we know he can when fully fit and switched-on.
Rob Harley then did brilliantly to snaffle possession when resisting the next Ulster wave and Warriors escaped up-field.
Just after the half hour mark, the game burst into life when Thomas Gordon brilliantly snaffled possession on the deck and Jamie Dobie set off up the short side with blistering pace, taking the game from his own 22 to the opposition’s, and prompting a breathless passage of play in which the ball was turned over half a dozen times before Ulster loose-head Eric O’Sullivan was penalised for not rolling away from the tackle, and Hastings fired home the 35-yard penalty.
Dobie was heavily involved when Ulster bounced back just a few minutes later, showing what a special ball player and athlete he is when taking the ball in the air with real panache, but then offloading to Ulster stand-off Ian Madigan. The visitors put the ball through the hands to James Hume, who bounced opposite number Robbie Fergusson, and John Cooney acted as the link to Michael Lowry, who had gas to spare as he scooted home from the Warriors 10m line. Cooney converted to make it 3-7 at the break.
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Scotland squad member Oli Kebble needed treatment on his shoulder early in the second half but stayed on, and it didn’t seem to inhibit him at the next scrum when he got on top of replacement tight-head Tom O’Toole to squeeze a penalty, which Hastings turned into three points, to make it a one-point game with half an hour to play.
Ulster roused themselves and mounted a furious onslaught and it took a great tag-team tackle from Huw Jones and Ratu Tagive to deprive Craig Gilroy a try in the corner.
Dobie did well to tidy up messy ball from the scrum-five, but when Warriors cleared downfield Ulster came right back at them, with Madigan making the initial dent, Cooney, O’Toole and Lowry carrying the move on, and this time there was nothing going to stop Gilroy going over.
It was now one way traffic, and with Warriors conceding penalty after penalty in desperation, another try became increasingly inevitable. It arrived on 62 minutes when Nick Timoney got the ball down after a powerful line-out surge, and Cooney kicked the conversion to make 6-19.
Warriors looked dead and buried, but they were handed a lifeline when replacement scrum-half Alby Matthewson was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on with six minutes left on the clock.
Sensing that they had a chance to salvage a win which would kick-start their season, Warriors threw the kitchen-sink at it, and when replacement loose-head Aki Seiuli rumbled over and replacement stand-off Ross Thompson slotted the tricky conversion with less than five minutes to go it set up a nerve-jangling finale.
This time Warriors controlled the restart and swept back up field in the hunt for a dramatic late win, but Ulster held out, and when Madigan won a crucial turnover, he sealed the away win.
The good news for national head coach Gregor Townsend is that the four Scotland players he released for the match appeared to come through without injury.
He will be particularly pleased to have seen Hastings manage 64 minutes and kick two long-range penalties in his first appearance since injuring his shoulder three-and-a-half months ago.
“I thought he did really well to be fair,” said Wilson. “He has had a long time out the game and hasn’t had a chance to do much contact in training sessions apart from what we needed to get him right for this game.
“He was physical and there was a lot of good in his game management. There are bits to improve on and he will be the first to say he was a bit rusty in certain areas but on the whole I thought he was very good on his first game back.
“I took him off because when a player has been out as long as he has you have to phase them back in and 50/60 mins was the cap today so you don’t risk a soft tissue injury. Obviously, in a tight game you would keep him on longer but he is on a process that started tonight.”
Glasgow Warriors: H Jones; R Tagive, R Fergusson, S Johnson, R McLean; A Hastings (R Thompson 64), J Dobie (S Kennedy 68); O Kebble (A Seiuli 61), J Matthews (G Stewart 40), E Pieretto (D Rae 71), R Gray, L Nakarawa (T Ioane 57), R Harley, T Gordon, R Wilson (J Scott 62).
Ulster: M Lowry, C Gilroy (M Faddes. 71), J Hume, S McCloskey, R Lyttle, I Madigan, J Cooney (A Mathewson 68); E O’Sullivan (A Warwick 51), J Andrew (A McBurney 51), M Moore (T O’Toole 46), A O’Connor, K Treadwell (C Izuchukwu 57), N Timoney, J Murphy, M Coetzee (G Jones 40).
Referee: Ben Blain (Edinburgh)
Glasgow Warriors: Try: Seiuli; Con: Thompson;Pen: Hastings.
Ulster: Try: Lowry, Gilroy, Timoney; Con: Cooney 2.
Scoring sequence (Glasgow Warriors first): 3-0; 3-5; 3-7 (h-t) 6-7; 6-12; 6-17; 6-19; 11-19; 13-19.
Yellow cards –
Ulster: Matthewson (74mins)