Lions v Glasgow: wasteful Warriors lose at last

A ten-match run without defeat for Franco Smith's side was brought to an end in an error-strewn game in Johannesburg

Nathan McBeth of Glasgow Warriors. Image: © Craig Watson -
Nathan McBeth of Glasgow Warriors. Image: © Craig Watson -

Lions 35
Glasgow Warriors 24

EVERY good run has to come to an end at some point. But the frustrating thing for Glasgow is that this particular sequence – ten games without defeat – did not have to come to an end in the way it did at Ellis Park.

The Lions, who had lost their previous five games, deserve a lot of credit for the spirit they showed in general, and for their attacking incisiveness in particular. They may be the most lowly-rated of the four South African teams in the URC, but that does not make them a bad side.

That is one mitigating factor that Warriors head coach Franco Smith will take into account when he does his debrief. So too will be the fact that the game was played at altitude and in some heat in Johannesburg. And, lest we forget, Glasgow were seriously understrength going into this rearranged league fixture, with a dozen man away on Scotland duty and some others still on the injury list.

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But they have been understrength before and still prevailed. For example, when the unbeaten run started, at Bath in the Challenge Cup in December, Smith selected what looked like a second string and yet they won. So for all the extenuating circumstances, this has to go down as one that got away.

True, they came home with a try bonus point to show for their efforts and they are still fourth in the table. But on another day they would at least have scored late in the game to secure a losing bonus too, and might well have gone the whole hog by winning at the death. 

It all began brightly enough when Eli Caven, a star of Super6 with the Ayrshire Bulls, scored on his debut for the Warriors. Glasgow won a scrum penalty and sent it to touch, and when clean line-out ball found its way back to Sam Johnson, the centre, who was celebrating his 100th appearance, passed back outside to the winger. Caven easily outstripped the defence to touch down on the left, and Tom Jordan added the two points.

Then, after looking vulnerable to their opponents’ speedy attack, the Lions hit back in spectacular fashion and took a grip on proceedings with four unanswered scores. Scrum-half Sanele Nohamba was first to strike, getting up in support of a counter-attack by Edwill Van der Merwe to run in an all-too-simple score. Gianni Lombard converted, and added two more points after No 8 Francke Horne got the Lions’ second by picking up a loose ball and running clear from halfway.

Manuel Rass got the third on the half-hour, breaking through tackles by Cole Forbes and Josh McKay. And then, after Sione Vailanu was sent to the sinbin for a team offence, Edwill van der Merwe made it four by finishing off in the left corner.


Forbes hit back right from the restart, latching on to a Johnny Matthews pass, and Jordan’s conversion made it 24-14. But Lombard had the last word in the half with a penalty to stretch the advantage to 13 points.

The Lions were hampered in the third quarter by two sinbinnings which briefly overlapped. Even so, they struck first, eventually forcing their way over through Ruan Venter after a tap penalty from just metres out.

Glasgow enjoyed their best spell around the hour mark. First Jordan scored from a McKay pass after a patient build-up, and then Thomas Gordon got the bonus-point try from a lineout maul, with useful support from Angus Fraser.

Both tries were unconverted, but at 32-24 momentum seemed to be with the visitors, for whom substitute scrum-half Sean Kennedy had brought some much-needed drive and direction. Hopes of a sustained fightback rose further when substitute Ruan Dreyer was sent off for a dangerous clear-out on the Warriors line – but, in an incident which best summed up the afternoon, Glasgow failed to find touch with the penalty.

Minutes later a break from deep looked promising, but Jamie Dobie was tackled into touch when it might have been more advisable to veer inside in search of support.

The Warriors had further chances to score again either side of a Lombard penalty, but they failed to make pressure count against an increasingly self-confident defence. Their last chance went when they again sent a penalty to the corner, but this time, instead of repeating the try-scoring move, they threw it high and lost the lineout. 


Teams –

Lions: Q Horn; R Maxwane, M Rass (R Jonker 68), M Louw (capt), E van der Merwe; G Lombard (A Coetzee 77), S Nohamba (M van den Berg 71); J Smith (R Rijnsburger 61), P Botha (M Brandon 76), A Ntlabakanye (R Dreyer 54), R Venter (R Delport 64), R Schoeman, J Kriel (R Straeuli 18), E Tshituka, F Horn. 

Glasgow Warriors: J McKay; C Forbes, S McDowall (capt), S Johnson (D Weir 69), E Caven (S Kennedy 54); T Jordan, J Dobie; N McBeth (A Dell 45), J Matthews (A Fraser 45), L Sordoni (S Berghan 32), L Bean (E Ferrie 76), S Cummings, A Miller (J du Preez 45), R Darge (T Gordon 55), S Vailanu.

Referee: A Jones (Wales).


Scorers –

Lions: Tries: Nohamba, Horne, Rass, Van der Merwe, Venter; Cons: Lombard 2. Pens: Lombard 2.

Glasgow: Tries: Caven, Forbes, Jordan, Gordon; Cons: Jordan 2. 

Scoring sequence (Lions first): 0-5; 0-7; 5-7; 7-7; 12-7; 14-7; 19-7; 24-7; 24-12; 24-14; 27-14 (h-t) 32-14; 32-19; 32-24; 35-24.


Yellow cards –

Lions: Van der Merwe (49mins) Q Horn 58.

Glasgow: Vailanu 34.


Red card –

Lions: Dreyer (66 mins).


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About Stuart Bathgate 1407 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. Tough one to lose. Performance dipped below recent standards, but they really looked like they were blowing after a few phases. Seemed to be a load of injuries in that second half too, with Dobie ending up on the wing, Matthews returning and Jordan hobbling around. Tough one though. With Munster away to come, I think this result makes a top 4 finish much more difficult.

  2. Glasgow are to be praised for making a fist of it and perhaps missing an opportunity for a win. I doubt Edinburgh, whom I support, would have done so well.

    My major beef is about admitting South African teams to the league in the first place. There was an argument that it would increase the level of competition and thereby improve Scottish players. However, for me it was always about money and not necessarily for the benefit of British teams. The Scottish and other “home” teams are severely hampered by non availability of international players during the Six Nations. As far as I am aware, the South African teams do not suffer to the same extent, so, apart from being good teams in the first place, they have an unfair advantage in many league games playing under strength opponents. Thay will eventually dominate the leagues. As for admitting S.A. into the Six Nations, forget it. The greedy Fat Cats are spoiling the game.

    The league matches should be suspended during the Six Nations to ensure a level playing field. Fat chance !

  3. Frustrating….masters of our own downfall in many ways. Perhaps not enough patience at altitude and slightly amended game plan ie territory would have been better but the Lions just fed off our errors…. Agree that we looked better when Kennedy came on, and I find myself starting to consider what some other posts have said in that Dobie needs to move to progress? Still think we’d be better with Ali moving on (to give Dobie more game time) which is more likely – better for the salary bill as well.

  4. The 2 missed Angus Fraser line-outs and the 2 mistakes by Sean Kennedy (1 poor pass 1 out on the full) killed the game for Glasgow. An entertaining old game with loads mistakes / attacking intent, Glasgow will be kicking themselves especially as the played almost the entire 2nd half v 14 men

  5. I always thought Glasgow were still going to win this one as they always looked like scoring when they had the ball but the errors cost them dearly particularly a few dropped balls 2 of which led directly to Lions tries. You could also see the heat and altitude was taking its toll as the defence looked disjointed and weary as the game went on. They went the length of the field with Dobie playing on the wing tackled at the corner flag when the inside pass was on.

    One item not mentioned was the Van der Merve try where he clearly dropped the ball in grounding unopposed. I watched the game in SA and the studio pundits were staggered that it wasn’t reviewed. The TMO must have been sleeping – very poor officiating.

    Regards the performance – another good game from McDowell and I do like the way Jordan plays – he’s very physical for a stand-off and made a lot of yards with the ball and he tackles hard. Needs to work on the finer aspects of stand-off play but a good player. Vailanu prominent again but Cummings and Darge on return a bit quiet. And Dell finally played.

  6. Frankly no doubt my usual distractors will ‘hit’ the thumbs down button without perhaps considering that I might just have a reasonable argument, however, what was the point of the URC involving SA Club sides?
    What is the point of Glasgow [or Edinburgh] sitting on a flight to Jo’burg or Capetown for 6 or 7 hours with a depleted side owing to Internationals and injuries? None what so ever in my opinion, even if it isn’t in the Six Nations International window it’s a suspect decision.
    Marketing, that’s all, nothing to do with improving the spectacle, nothing to do with player management, nothing to do with looking at the costs of travelling half way around the globe, just marketing and the opportunity for URC sales to extend the advertising ‘footprint’.
    Remember what Huw Jones said when he left SA, ‘I’m looking forward to not having to travel half way around the world for the next fixture’ referring to the southern hemisphere competitions: he spoke too soon.
    That said sorry the lads didn’t come away with a win but with budgets stretched and so many other aspects demanding financial support in Scotland, not least the grassroots where the game creates its stars of the future, I ask the question again, what is the point?

    • Agree with you George regards playing this particular match on the same weekend as a Scotland game. The game was originally meant to be part of a 2 game trip. Don’t agree with the SA sides not being in the competition at all – has added some quality to the competition and think of the experience some of the lads gained yesterday. The travel is clearly a challenge and btw it’s a full 12 hr flight to Johannesburg or Cape Town.

      • Thanks for the travel tip, 12 hours, Jeez! I have always had doubts about the cosy little clique all a 15 minute Taxi from the Shelbourne in Dublin, whether World Rugby, the Tv. production company, URC/EPCR, and I’m no fan of Anayi or Mackay who in my opinion direct Rugby in a direction that suits their commercial activities somewhat to the detriment of Players, just add more and more competitions and travel.
        Anyway fingers crossed for this afternoon.

    • I regularly disagree with you George. But not on this issue.
      We were promised more money. Hasn’t happened
      We were promised no games at the height of summer. 31C yesterday, at 5600 ft.
      We were promised that the stupid format meant no games during the 6N. I know this and Ulster’s game were rearranged after both squads were poisoned but frankly 12 players with Scotland, another 7 injured, and a day long trip to altitude and heat is simply ridiculous. And I’d be saying the same had Glasgow won.

      • Thanks for the support and no doubt there will be other aspects in the future that URC or EPCR will introduce that are there only for their commercial gain, making a profit is one thing but to the detriment of player welfare amongst other questionable factors is another.
        Fingers crossed for this afternoon.

    • One argument in favour of the SA teams is that the league is far more competitive, and this could be contributing to an improved National performance.

      I personally doubt the players are complaining about the occasional trip to South Africa either (at least from what i’ve heard its been a fantastic experience for them) despite the brutally tough games. Its almost like an old-school tour.

      I think the league needed better competition to stay alive and the South Africans have brought that, far fewer games can be taken for granted anymore, to often in the past teams could afford to rest star players (except for Leinster), which takes away from the spectacle.

      What the league really needs now is consistent competitive Welsh teams, they are holding us back (and this guaranteed Heineken spot for a welsh side is ridiculous).

      Another note, a recent game between Bulls and Stormers attracted ~ 44,000 fans, it was a fantastic atmosphere and game, entertaining to watch even if you usually stick to the Scottish teams.

    • The URC may have expanded into South Africa, but the crowd was tiny for Glasgow’s visit yesterday and I suspect would be dwarfed by a Curry Cup crowd. It’s early days yet, with this only being the second season of their participation in the URC, but what else would grow the viewership for the broadcaster and exposure for sponsors? There was a meeting of various interested parties last week re the future for rugby. Other than Jim Hamilton’s suggestion to remove scrums for the game, I don’t know what was discussed and assume talks will be ongoing throughout this World Cup year.

      • What was the crowd size for lions game? Admittedly looked quiet, but it is a 65,000 seater stadium, and usually most of the crowd is on the side the cameras don’t see.

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