URC: depleted Lions shock Glasgow with inspired revival

Warriors now guaranteed top-four finish but aim of top-two slot is out of their hands after this reverse

Kyle Rowe scored a hat-trick for Glasgow Warriors against Scarlets. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Kyle Rowe got Glasgow's first try and had another chalked off. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

Emirates Lions 44

Glasgow Warriors 21


AFTER picking up two creditable points in defeat by the Bulls last week, Glasgow aimed to end their South African mini-tour with a victory that would seal their place in the top four of the URC even if results elsewhere went against them. And, with just a home game against Zebre to come in the regular season, such a result at Emirates Airline Park – known to its old friends as Ellis – would also have come very close to ensuring a top-two spot.

That outcome appeared to be very much on the cards in the early stages of the second half when, having trailed by just a point at the break, the Warriors regained the lead against opponents who had been reduced to 14 men by the dismissal of Ruan Venter – and who had been down to 13  either side of the break when Francke Horn was sin-binned. But instead of capitalising on that lead and their numerical advantage, Glasgow were stunned by an inspired fightback which saw the home team run in four tries in around a dozen minutes.

It was a reversal of fortunes which appeared to leave Franco Smith just as stunned as his players, because it took a while for the head coach to admit after the match that anything had gone wrong for his team. Smith was quite right to praise the home side for their spirited recovery, in which they improvised superbly, but on reflection, and in private, he may admit to greater failings in his own team’s performance than he was prepared to concede in the post-match press conference.

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“I think everything went right for the Lions,” he replied when first asked what had gone wrong for Glasgow. “They played some good rugby, so well done to them.

“Yes, we have a couple of lessons to take home, but I don’t think anything went wrong. I just think we were unfortunate.”

Having said that, Smith sensibly went on to concede that things had gone wrong for his players – although even then he tried to put a gloss on proceedings by highlighting what he saw as a positive aspect of the result. “We didn’t finish our opportunities,” he continued.

“Through this season a lot of expectation grew, and that’s always a negative ingredient. Tonight that expectation was obviously wiped off, so that is fantastic.

“They didn’t outplay us – we made errors. We created opportunities. If Kyle Rowe’s ‘try’ that was held up had been allowed, the scoreline would have gone completely different in the first half. 

“A loose kick a little bit too long, two turnovers at the breakdown, an intercept try . . . There are things we could have done better, I agree. A little bit of reward for the line breaks that we had would have been fantastic. We didn’t convert all our opportunities into points.

“I think in general we went a little bit off script. We haven’t played against 14 or 13 players that often, and you get reward for what you’re doing and get a little bit over-excited. 

“Again, I would rather flip it over and say that the Lions did extremely well without that player. Again, a lesson for this team to take forward into the next part of the season.”

While still at 15 men, the Lions played competently without hinting at the flair that was to come once they were depleted. Gianni Lombard misses two early chances to give them the lead from penalties, before Rowe opened the scoring for the visitors. The winger latched on to a grubber from George Horne, kicking ahead and touching down. The scrum-half converted, and Venter was shown a yellow card for going in late on Tom Jordan in the build-up.

A Jordan Hendrikse penalty opened the Lions’ account, then came the Rowe ‘score’ to which Smith referred.  The Scotland international thought he had done enough to ground under pressure from two defenders, but referee Craig Evans ruled he had failed to do so.  There was a TMO review, but, without conclusive evidence to the contrary, the on-field decision stood.

Smith replaced his front row after half an hour, as he had done against the Bulls, but within minutes the Lions were in front when Rabz Maxwane finished off on the left. Venter then saw red for head-on-head contact in a tackle on Jordan, and Horn was shown yellow for a deliberate knock-on.  Smith later revealed that Jordan had failed his initial head-injury assessment, leaving his participation in the Zebre game in doubt.

The 13 men were on top in the early stages of the second half, but they fell behind when Euan Ferrie finished off after good work by Johnny Matthews and Jamie Bhatti. Horne’s conversion made it 8-14, but then in a whirlwind episode of counter-attacking, that advantage was soon wiped out.



An Edwill van der Merwe try from a chip and chase was converted by Sanele Nohamba, who added two more points a couple of minutes later when Maxwane scored his second from deep. JC Pretorius then scored the bonus-point try at the end of a superb play from deep, and another Nohamba two-pointer made it 29-14.

The Warriors still had 20 minutes to salvage something from the game, but Nohamba punished them further with an interception score, again converted by himself. Josh McKay provided a glimmer of hope after being put through by Tuipulotu, and Duncan Weir converted. But the Lions ran down the clock astutely, and completed the scoring with a  Nohamba penalty and an unconverted try from Hanru Sirgel, who drove straight through the middle of a very tired defence.

Later in the day, Glasgow’s top-four finish was finally assured when the Stormers failed to pick up a win bonus in Connacht. Nonetheless, the Scots will surely fly home in a less-than-assured frame of mind after this result.

Asked to assess his team’s two games in his native land, Smith said: “Obviously I’m disappointed. I think we’re a better team than the scorelines reflected. I think we were well prepared physically, it wasn’t the heat or the altitude that caught up on us – we proved that last week against the Bulls by scoring a lot of points late in the game.

“In general our prep was good. We’re going to take some lessons, but the high number of points that we’ve given away is uncharacteristic of us. I think anyone can see that wasn’t good enough and we’ll take it on the chin and go to the next challenge.”



Emirates Lions: Q Horn; R Maxwane, E Cronje, J Hendrikse (M Raas 76), E van der Merwe; G Lombard (S Nohamba 49), M van den Berg; M Naude (JP Smith 46), PJ Botha (J Visagie 64), A Ntlabakanye (R Dreyer 46), W Alberts (capt, R Nothnagel 62), R Delport, JC Pretorius, E Tshituka (R Venter 14), F Horn (H Sirgel 74).

Glasgow Warriors: J McKay; K Steyn (capt), S McDowall, S Tuipulotu, K Rowe; T Jordan (D Weir 37), G Horne (J Dobie 62); O Kebble (J Bhatti 34), A Fraser (J Matthews 34), M Walker (Z Fagerson 34), G Brown (M Williamson 46), S Cummings, E Ferrie (M Fagerson 68), R Darge (J Dempsey 46), H Venter.

Referee: Craig Evans (Wales).



Lions: Tries: Maxwane 2, Van der Merwe, JC Pretorius, Nohamba, Sirgel; Pens: Hendrikse, Nohamba; Cons: Nohamba 4. 

Glasgow: Tries: Rowe, Ferrie, McKay;. Cons: Horne 2, Weir.

Scoring sequence (Lions first): 0-5; 0-7; 3-7; 8-7 (h-t) 8-12; 8-14; 13-14; 15-14; 20-14; 22-14; 27-14; 29-14; 34-14; 36-14; 36-19; 36-21; 39-21; 44-21.


Yellow cards

Lions: R Venter (13 mins), F Horn (38 mins),


Red card

Lions: R Venter (36 mins)

Super Series: Ayrshire Bulls breeze past Southern Knights

About Stuart Bathgate 1415 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.


  1. A lot of people on here forgetting what Smith has done for Glasgow in the short time he has been there and who was in place before. He was only announced as coach in August 2022.

    We were never winning the URC or a cup this season. Anyone believing that needs their bumps felt.

    Yes, we have frailties, yes, we switch off, yes, we need stronger leadership in the tough moments.

    But to mount a title challenge requires a team built around a consolidated attack and defence. Glasgow are not here yet. Another year on and I would have raised my eyebrows at that result. Right now its a middle ground defeat where we still have gaps, and the Lions did well to pressure those gaps.

    Smith has taken it on the chin and taken the blame. That’s what good coaches do.

    We have had a good season and we are in the QF’s, and still in the hunt for a title. Could you have said that about Danny Wilson’s tenure? Harlequins are currently 6th in a league that is nowhere near as tough or suffers as many swings in performance as the URC.

    • Franco inherited a team who were regularly in the playoffs and maintained that. Glasgow and yet to win a really crunch game under Smith. Underperformed in Europe and league form has dropped from a great start.
      Smith has had time to make changes to squad has got some players playing well but fundamentally has done nothing more than match Danny Wilsons achievements.

      Wilson took Quins to a European semi and a win against Glasgow. The Premiership were the only league with 2 semi finalists. Take away Newcastle and Gloucester and the Premiership teams would all be playoffs contenders in URC despite much smaller budgets.

      Point is maybe it wasn’t Wilson that was the problem, maybe our players are just mentally not strong enough and happy to live the easy life in SRU bubble.

    • I don’t think anyone would disagree that Smith is a big improvement on his predecessor and has things moving in the right direction – and certainly not many would have put money on Glasgow winning the competition this season at the outset, however it’s the spurning of a golden opportunity to secure a home pathway to a home final, (where anything can happen on the day), in such a manner that is so disappointing. Whilst Glasgow certainly have some development to do to secure a chair at the top table they’re not that far away – it’s also a team with players of significant international experience and you’d hope they would have shown more composure and taken better control of the situation.

    • I think inevitably people were quite shocked by the performance and the way we unravelled against 14 men. I dont think many are having a go at Franco more disappointed in the players. We have suddenly gone from looking like finishing 1st and getting home advantage all the way to final to ending up 4th and probably getting the Stormers in the quarters. I think the fans had built an expectation that they would secure 1st so its a big come down. it dents the confidence of the fans and I’m sure the players also who will need to pick themselves up. Munster had just been down in SA before us and beat both the same teams – the Lions 33-12 I think. So its hardly surprising that people expected to beat the Lions. Enough has been said about the manner of the defeat – some of the tries were probably a bit freakish to concede all in the same game but it happened. We are not at the same level as Leinster and Munster when it comes to grinding out results and so I agree we have a way to go to win the URC. Maybe with expectations now reduced we might surprise someone – lets hope so. I have confidence at home against Stormers but thereafter it will be tough.

  2. A hugely disappointing result, tactically naive against a battling Lion’s team but we need to be less critical of Smith. He has grown this team hugely and the season – in this incredibly competitive league –
    is not over yet!

    • True – the overall trajectory under Franco has definitely been upward. But that also brings with it increased expectations. I think the current outpouring of angst is part of that blow to our own expectations – we had seen ourselves as realistic challengers but looking at the performance on Saturday (and to an extent against the Bulls too) there’s some serious reassessment going on. We all know that Leinster’s 1st team are in a different league. But judging ourselves against eg Munster we’re currently looking quite short still and it feels like a replay of last season where we tailed off badly at the business end.
      Maybe this will be the kick up the rear that we needed at this stage – if the team had started to believe their own press as top of the league etc. But I have my doubts.

  3. Smith has lost the plot because he started a weak front row last week which got humped and he did it again this week again with the same result.

    Sport is all about momentum so why play Walker who is not up to the standard required and Kebble who is simply not interested and is just going through the motions.

    Obviously this was Smiths idea of his bomb squad as the team in the second half was way stronger than the starting team and packed full of seasoned internationalists yet they folded like a pack of cards.

    He obviously forgot to insert the fuse as that second half was a truely pathetic performance and everyone at Glasgow coaches and players should be truely ashamed as they had so much to gain. .

  4. The tactical ineptitude is frightening! Opposition down to 14 with 50 mins to go which requires some sensible thinking to change to plan B to ensure you win a must win game by hook or crook… but instead we continue to play Plan A of trying to run the opposition off the park with fast high risk rugby. Totally wrong tactics at high altitude against SA teams who all have exceptionally fast strike runners that can hurt you in a split second when the game is loose. I watched the Sharks v Cardiff game and Cardiff delivered a masterclass in how to close out a game when the opposition see red and are down to 14 with 50 mins to play. The second half of that game was turgid (“dreary end of season stuff” as called by the Welsh commentators) because once Cardiff got 2 scores in front they simply shut the game down and suffocated Sharks who made countless unforced errors trying to force the game.

  5. Inexplicable errors and lack of rugby nous.
    When Jordan went off Weir stand so deep that Tuipulotu has to be main playmaker, I said before the Bulls game that Glasgow need to play Thompson for his superior kicking game.
    Weir has been a tremendous servant but……..
    Has stated in this thread no nous when down to 13 men.
    The vaunted bench made no difference whatsoever

    • Venter was clearly tasked with getting Jordan off the park and succeeded. Jordan was then ‘not right’ when he kicked the ball dead from the penalty. Once Weir came on our attacking options were limited, but there was no game plan for playing against 13 or 14, which is keep taking the ball to the line until the gaps appear outside. That goes for Edinburgh as well as Glasgow, but the players should know that rather than having to be told, but several seemed to be not on that page. Some errors were not errors but marginal calls. Should there have been a penalty try for the knock on with two players waiting outside and one defender, was the Lions player offside when he knocked the ball out of Stafford’s hands when they then went in for the try (clearly in my opinion), another held up call by the ref rather than no decision which made the TMO decision harder for Rowe’s non-try. Scrum reffing was not good either. Lions hooker kept on standing up under pressure, but the ref called it as both teams standing up. Really disappointing and the errors that were errors were just unprofessional. The Lions took their chances but they were given too many easy ones.

    • Jordan doesn’t really have a kicking game, from hand or tee. Its what stops him being a top class fly half. Having watched him closely for a couple of seasons he is a great and physical player, but simply isn’t anything close to a natural kicker of a ball and sadly never will be

  6. miserable disheartening performance. Lost the plot after they went down to 14.
    This site’s favourite scrum half was awful, poor box kicks giving easy attack returns, just what Lions yearned for. Against 14, and even more against 13, its actually keeping the ball tight that succeeds – by drawing defenders in to the breakdown. Then the space appears out wide. Just going wide much easier to defend.

  7. You could see this result coming. Glasgow struggled with Zebre away a few weeks back until they were able to settle in the second half. There is defenately a fragility within this team!

  8. Reminds me of the feeling I had sitting in the stands of the Aviva watching Glasgows no show against Toulon. An abysmal performance that exposed the lack of leadership and smarts in the team, looked like there was no plan other than fling it wide and hope to run in 4 trys. Lack of ball carriers in the pack exposed again – whilst Dempsey normally provides an option he seemed to be as ineffective as everybody else. No penetration in midfield, no body carrying the ball to the line and committing defenders, Tuipulotu as poor as I’ve seen him in this respect, McDowall was only sightly better. By time ball got to wings the entire Lions defence simply drifted across. Having Altitude does make a big difference, but it’s not an excuse for an implosion of this magnitude. Fully expect turn around against Zebre followed by home quarter final win and then getting destroyed in semi final away. Golden opportunity to win league missed.

  9. Absolute shocker – what would the score have been against 15 men?! Apparently they all have business class tickets, but I would make them walk home. All Scottish hopes now pinned on Bob MacIntyre to save the weekend.

  10. Just like the national side, absolutely no leadership when things go wrong, not one player on that pitch had the mental fortitude, the clarity of mind to understand what was required I.e. keep it tight, they only have x 13 players, don’t give them a sniff of open play.
    Where was the leader, stand up please, where were you, the troops needed you, they wanted to follow (I think) but you were absent without leave.
    Franco can offer all sorts of platitudes, as does Gregor Townsend far to often, but mentally some are just soft, unlike the Leinster’s, Munster etc. etc.
    When the chips are really down for Scotland, Glasgow & Edinburgh we just stumble and fall, it’s all too familiar and can be quite disheartening 😔

    • where were our feted and over paid internationalists Zander and Matt Fagerson, Tuipulotu, Scotland co captain Darge, Dempsey etc. not one stepped up to take the team and the game by the scruff of the neck. Absolute joke

  11. Wow what a shocker We had that game ready to go at half time and then produced one of the worst 2nd hafsf I cam remember in living memory. All their tries came from terrrible mistakes from Glasgow. !st try Joradn misses touch nd then a few minutes later we concede a try. 2nd try – Rowe makes a great run, has Horne inside him but decides to make contact – 30 secs later Lions score at the other end. £rd try Steyn is robbed at a ruck in scrum half position and they score again from 70 metres. 4th try Horne kicks a long box kick and they scamper up the field. There was an interception next.

    You cant win games by making so many mistakes and giving them free tries. The game management was shocking. Sorry but I feel quite upset by this level of ineptitude. Ae Glasgow really a serious side?

  12. Both Glasgow and Edinburgh were in positions to do each other big favours this weekend – both blew it big time.

  13. I think we played too fast and loose when they went down to 14 then 13. The only way Lions were going to get back into the match was if we played too fast and loose. Almost all of their tries were breakaways following poor execution. We should have kept it tight and not given them a sniff. Poor decision making during that part of the game. What I do like about Franco is that he plans for the future and is actively developing younger players. Bad day at the office today, but I think the future is looking bright.

  14. Another pathetic display from a Scottish team when it really mattered, Glasgow were in pole position then flunked the test, We are just not test match animals -what an anti climax to the season

  15. How much difference do you think the altitude makes, it seems that few team can go to and win. Maybe on top of the travel it’s an unfair challenge?

    • Heat and altitude didn’t affect Munster as they beat both Lions and Bulls in SA.
      Warriors were over there for 2 weeks so please don’t use altitude as an excuse, we were pure and simply poor!
      Again showed that we don’t know how to beat a blitz defence, running around like headless chickens up blind alleys with no game management. This from a squad with 9 starting and 7 replacement Scotland internationals. Really poor display.

      • Yeah, was really just genuinely asking the question, and the Munster answer is a fair point, but … Leinster, Ulster and Glasgow lost both games … ??

        • Yes but Leinster played their under 12’s and Ulster were playing 15 v 15. The Warriors put out an experienced mostly international team and allowed their opposition back into a game that should have been dead and buried.
          As others have stated this team is mentally frail and unfortunately now everyone else knows it.

      • heat and altitude do affect players. And 2 weeks is nowhere near enough to do acclimatisation. Have to say well done Munster to cope so well but Glasgow clearly suffered from both, exhaustion obvious – which is not to excuse an atrocious display and really poor decision making. All that was needed was to stick to their usual script and gaps would have appeared

    • The lack of support play & timely clearing out by the Warriors players later in the game indicates to me that the altitude did have a significant impact, as did extremely poor game management & individual skills. These games are won or lost by fine margins, & with the reduced oxygen level probably impacting players’ fitness & reaction times, even by say 5%, this can make all the difference to performances & results. That said the backline was far too one-dimensional & lacked dynamism & piercing speed, with Jordan’s enforced substitution probably being the key turning point in the Warriors loosing their potency. Not all’s lost though, it’s just makes the later knockout rounds much harder (assuming they get there).

  16. Apparently you need to be respectful on this forum…..well presently I feel like being anything but. How can professional rugby players who are in a winning position against a mid table team with 13 men allow themselves to be humped and humiliated to this extent. And before the apologist start wringing their hands and mouthing words like heat and altitude (a) it was warmer in Glasgow this afternoon and (b) it didn’t seem to effect Munster did it. No doubt we will “learn lessons” and take 60 points off Zebre in 2 weeks but that’s all fine and well, it’s too late, the train has left the station, the chance of a home semi and a final in Glasgow has evaporated. We will be lucky to beat the Stormers or whoever and even if we do we will get another shellacking in Ireland in the semis.
    Two years ago I was wandering around Glasgow bewildered at what had just happened against Leinster. This felt worse. At least Leinster are by any measure are one of the 2 or 3 best club teams in the world and they were playing with 15 men. Today we just rolled over and showed how much tactically naive and how mentally fragile we are. An absolute embarrassment.

  17. Painful reality check…. The best teams peak at the right time and put teams away… Munster looking really ominous in their form at the right time, and we do show signs of mental fragility.

    Still got a home 1/4 but a tougher one than our season may have merited..

  18. 2-3 really bad decisions at key moments cost us the momentum we then started to panic – very poormanagement on the pitch. Needed but lacked strong leadership. Homw 1/4 but if we win a tough away semi-final – we need to learn the lessons and move forward.
    Mental skills a big issue.

  19. The one game we really needed to win and we were abysmal, against 13 and 14 men. The SA trip has been a failure. We lost Jordan and Weir was anonymous as was McDowall and Tuipulotu. The commentator’s were saying all through the second half we were just moving the ball from side to side often going no where. We gifted them 2 or 3 tries and we lost the physical battle again. Not sure what the game plan was but we seemed to lack the ability to find space against 13/14 men. Heat and altitude did not seem to effect Munster. We blew it big time and we need a great 10 and Jordan, Thompson and Weir are not the men for the job.

  20. Terrible performance and a concerning time for a drop in form
    Main question has to the back to mentality of players.

  21. What?!? What happened? Watched the first half and that was a bit botched, but then had to travel and viewed the text updates incredulous, as the opposition seemed to be scoring at will. Did anyone actually count the number of players they had on the pitch? Not sure I can face the highlights 🤔

  22. I’m gutted as a fan that we couldnt kick on. It just feels like all momentum in the league has been lost. We should beat Zebre next week at home and probably our home quarter final but there is still a lot for this team to learn if it wants to win the league again.

    • Agree we have lost all momentum we’ll be 4th on 64 or 65 after the final round. Then we’ll be away if we make the semi’s.

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