GLASGOW WARRIORS 27
(PHOTO BY CRAIG WATSON)
IT would be misleading to say that Stuart Hogg can do no wrong at the moment. The official Six Nations player of the championship has actually had some howlers of late. His horrible misjudgement of the bouncing ball against Ireland which allowed Keith Earls over for a crucial score last weekend, and his rather loose tackle on Guilhem Guirado which allowed the French captain to score at Murrayfield a week earlier, spring to mind.
There were a couple of blunders in this match as well, notably his second minute sin-binning for slapping the ball out of Ruan Pienaar’s hands at the base of a ruck on the Warriors line, and the fumbling of an easy catch in the 50th minute.
However, one of the most compelling things about Hogg is his indefatigability. Although he couldn’t buy a slice of good luck for almost an hour of this game, he had absolutely no interest in sloping off into the background to lick his wounds. He has that unshakeable (and completely justified) belief in his own ability which means that no matter what has gone before, he is always just one flash of magic away from turning everything on its head.
On this occasion, that moment of redemption came just short of the hour mark when the similarly impressive Finn Russell floated a speculative (and suspiciously flat) pass over the heads of three Ulster defenders to put Hogg in space on the left touchline.
His chip over Craig Gilroy’s head was brilliantly executed, and from the moment he glided past the Irish winger to collect the bouncing ball, there was only one possible outcome.
Having surrendered two unconscionably soft tries (to Chris Henry and Stuart McCloskey) at the start of each the half, the Warriors were staring down the barrel of a shotgun which was cocked and ready to blow their dreams of making the end of season play-offs into smithereens, But now, in the blink of an eye, the whole momentum of this match had shifted away from the visitors and towards the previously calamitous home team.
They were still 14-17 behind, but Hogg and company could sense blood and they were ready to go for the jugular. Ulster, meanwhile, were rattled and will be furious at themselves for the way they capitulated.
Within seconds of the restart, visiting replacement Sean Reidy had dollied an easy catch, allowing the resurgent Warriors to get their hands back on the ball. In the next phase of play Finn Russell sensed an opportunity wide on the right. His immaculate cross-kick was caught by Tommy Seymour on the full, and the effervescent winger swept home from the halfway line.
Ulster tried desperately to rescue the situation, but the Warriors had finally got their heads around what referee John Lacey was looking for at the breakdown to win crucial penalties under the shadow of their own posts against Stuart Olding and McCloskey – and effectively kill off this match as a contest.
Robbie Diack was then penalised for diving off his feet at a ruck, to hand Russell an easy opportunity to extend the Warriors’ lead to 24-17.
Almost inevitably, the final act of the match involved another moment of virtuoso brilliance from Hogg, who stepped forward to launch home an outrageous 55 yard penalty – even longer than the one he kicked against France – to deprive their opponents of so much as a losing bonus point.
Warriors: Tries: Hogg, Seymour: Con: Russell; Pens: Russell 4, Hogg.
Ulster: Tries: Henderson, McLoskey; Cons: Jackson 2; Pen: Jackson
Warriors: S Hogg; T Seymour, M Bennett, A Dunbar, S Lamont; F Russell, H Pyrgos (G hart 66); G Reid, F Brown (J Malcolm 66), S Puafisi (Z Fagerson 66), L Nakawara, J Gray, R Harley, C Fusaro (R Wilson 23), J Strauss (T Swinson 63).
Ulster: S Olding; C Gilroy, L Marshall, S McLoskey, R Scholes (D Cave 75); P Jackson, R Pienaar (P Marshall 75); C Black (K McCall 63), R Herring, R Lutton(A Warwick 75), A O’Connor (R Diack 27), F van der Merwre, I Henderson, C Henry, N Williams (S Reidy 40).
Man of the Match: Hogg might be steeling the headlines at the moment but FINN RUSSELL had the vision to see Glasgow’s two try scoring opportunities and the technical ability to make it happen.