STUART BATHGATE @ Bridgehaugh
DAVE Rennie would have preferred a victory on his debut as Glasgow Warriors’ head coach, but the New Zealander was nonetheless encouraged by what he had seen a young and inexperienced side produce. With only a handful of first-team regulars in their squad, Glasgow led their more seasoned opponents for much of the game, only ending up on the losing side when they conceded two tries in the closing minutes of the game.
The second of those scores was eminently avoidable from a defensive point of view, and that fact, as well as the positive aspects of his team’s display, enabled Rennie to offer a modestly enthusiastic assessment of the match. “I was pretty proud of those boys,” the coach said. “Northampton had some of their big guns out today and I thought our boys stood up pretty well.
“We asked them to be brutal, we asked them to carry hard, and our clean-out was really good. There was a lot of aggression there. Maybe a bit of discipline was not great at times as we gave up a couple of soft penalties, but I can’t fault the effort.”
Rory Hughes set the tone for an afternoon of adventurous rugby in the opening minutes when he fielded a kick inside his own 22 and set off an a 60-metre break. That attack came to nothing, but a similar move sparked by the full-back produced the opening score of the season with 10 minutes on the clock.
Again taking possession from an aerial clearance, Hughes set off down the right and fed George Horne. The scrum-half passed to Robbie Nairn then looped round the winger to take the return ball and scamper clear from the edge of the 22. Northampton’s Luther Burrell was down injured at the time, which accounted in part for the space that had opened up in the visitors’ back line, but it was a well-constructed try nonetheless. Adam Hastings, the other debutant along with Nairn in the starting line-up, converted that score and went on to give glimpses of how much he has to offer Glasgow this season, particularly with some well-judged kicks from deep.
Given there was only a handful of first-team regulars in their starting line-up, the Warriors put in a pretty coherent effort in the first half – before, that is, the multiple changes by both sides began to have an adverse effect on proceedings. As the interval approached, much of that effort had to go into defence, where openside Matt Smith was particularly impressive.
Spells of sweeping rain made handling difficult for much of the second quarter, which the Saints dominated. They twice passed up chances to open their account when opting to kick penalties to touch, but just before the break they made their pressure tell, with Ahsee Tuala finishing off from short range. Harry Mallinder’s conversion made it all square at the break, a position which did not flatter Northampton, who went on to have the upper hand in the early stages of the second half.
Having said that, it was Glasgow who had the first significant attack, with a Hastings cross-kick momentarily having appeared to set Lee Jones free on the left wing before the cover defence closed him down. That move appeared to inspire the Warriors, who went on to produce a period of sustained pressure that led to their restoring their lead. Jones and Matt Fagerson came close to the line, then in the end it was captain Adam Ashe who was able to force his way over.
Hastings again added the two points, and the scoreboard stayed at 14-7 until the dying minutes of the contest, when two tries in quick succession gave the visitors victory. The first score came after valiant defence had held up multiple attempts by the Saints front row to barge their way over in the middle, with Alex Mitchell squeezing over in the left corner after the attack had switched direction.
Mallinder’s failure to convert could have proved costly, but with 80 minutes on the clock Northampton were ahead. Tom Collins was the scorer, racing into a gap down a right channel to touch down from 35 metres out, but the Warriors only had themselves to blame for conceding, as too many defenders had gone on to the short side. This time Mallinder was on target, and Northampton held on for a narrow win. The outcome might have been different had referee Mike Adamson penalised Mitchell for holding on in the build-up to the decisive try, but the Saints just about deserved to win all the same. Having said that, given the inexperience of the Glasgow squad, Rennie can take considerable heart from the fight put in by his players – and indeed from the fact that on another day they might even have held on for the win.
“What highlighted for me today was that we have a lot of depth,” the coach added. “They are green and will learn a lot from today and from the other opportunities that they will get. What we know is that a lot of the guys sitting in the stand today will be unavailable at certain times and these are the guys we will look towards so we will be better for that.
“There were no points up for grabs. It is always good to win, but we take a lot of positives from today.”
Glasgow Warriors: R Hughes; L Sarto, P Kelly, S Johnson, R Nairn; A Hastings, G Horne; J Bhatti, J Malcolm, D Rae, G Peterson, S Cummings, M Fagerson, M Smith, A Ashe. Substitutes: A Allan, G Stewart, A Nicol, B Alainu’uese, K McDonald, G Stokes, H Burr, C Fusaro, L Wynne, C Shiel, S McDowell, L Jones, R Beattie.
Northampton Saints: B Foden; J Estelles, A Tuala, L Burrell, T Collins; P Francis, N Groom; C Ma’afu, C Clare, J Ford-Robinson, D Ribbans, J Craig, J Gibson, L Ludlam, M Eadie. Substitutes: H Mallinder, G Furbank, R Hutchison, J Elliott, J Grayson, A Mitchell, A Waller, D Hartley, K Brookes, R Marshall, C Day, B Nuttley, T Harrison.
Glasgow Warriors: Tries: Horne, Ashe. Cons: Hastings 2.
Northampton Saints: Tries: Tuala, Mitchell, Collins. Cons: Mallinson 2.
Scoring sequence (Glasgow first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5; 7-7; half-time; 12-7; 14-7; 14-12; 14-17; 14-19.
Referee: M Adamson (West of Scotland).