Glasgow Warriors 8
THIS was not a disaster. Glasgow Warriors still have three games left to gather the four points they need to finish top of Conference A in the Guinness PRO14 and thereby claim a home semi-final draw in the end of season play-offs. But the pressure has cranked up an extra notch, and the sense of destiny which cloaked the team during the first half of this league campaign is not looking quite as securely fastened now as it did before kick-off.
In case anyone is underestimating the size of the challenge Dave Rennie’s men faced here, let’s point out that Scarlets are unbeaten in their last 19 championship matches at Parc y Scarlets since losing to Munster in the opening round of last season, they are the reigning champions of this competition, and they have just qualified for the semi-finals of the Champions Cup. In short, they have a pedigree that the Warriors can only dream of replicating at the moment.
A win here would have been an excellent achievement, and there is no shame in the loss. It is just disappointing that the Warriors didn’t really fire a shot until it was too late.
The Scarlets, by their own admission, were not at their best, but they had more than enough to get the job done.
“We wanted to bring energy in our performance and we worked on that all week, but we just couldn’t deliver today,” said full-back Stuart Hogg, who was one of six Scotland internationalists restored to the team for this match after being given a couple of weeks off after the Six Nations.
“You can’t come down to a side like the Scarlets and watch them play – and admire them too much. You can’t score points without the ball and we work extremely hard on our shape every day in training, but at times today we coughed it up too cheaply. We gave them ball to play with and they got points on the back of it.
“Without being too harsh on ourselves, we can maybe look at that as a reality check – we’ve still got a lot of hard work to do to try and win this trophy. So, it’s about analysing this and looking to get better.”
Scotland captain and Scarlets number eight John Barclay – who will return north next season to link up with Edinburgh – said the biggest challenge his team faced in this match was psychological.
“I really think there is something happening here that is quite special and the ability to back-up a massive high of last week [when Scarlets defeated La Rochelle to reach the last four of the Champions Cup] was the challenge for us,” he explained. “The good thing is that we knew we were playing a very good Glasgow team, and we fronted up. It probably wasn’t a perfect performance but it continues to grow.”
A frantic start
There were no points scored in a frantic first quarter, with the attacking ambitions of both sides being neutralised by two effective rush defences. Finn Russell did have a couple of opportunities to put the Warriors ahead during this period but missed both penalty opportunities– including one from directly in front of the posts – but he wasn’t alone in having a slightly faulty radar because the normally metronomic Leigh Halfpenny also missed a sitter just before the half hour mark.
It took a brilliant flash of opportunism from Rhys Patchell, aided by some pretty shoddy defence from the Warriors – specifically Jamie Bhatti and Ali Price – to break the deadlock. The stand-off collected the ball at first receiver from a ruck and stepped back inside, threaded himself through the eye of a needle and then darted home from 20 yards.
Halfpenny missed the conversion but finally hit the target when Price were penalised for a high tackle on opposite number Gareth Davies.
Warriors had a golden opportunity to narrow the gap in injury time of the first half when they were awarded a penalty ten yards out and right in front of the posts, but they opted for the scrum instead of three easy points, and ended up being obliterated by an eight-man Scarlets shove, which was a huge psychological moment.
The visitors had more possession than their opponents in the first half but trailed by eight points at the turn because they had not been able to make any ground with the ball in hand. The half-time stats told us that Russell had kicked the ball on each of the nine occasions it came his way. He was clearly out of sorts and head coach Dave Rennie acted decisively by replacing his playmaker with Peter Horne during the interval.
Posing questions in the second half
The second-half certainly started positively for the visitors with Ryan Wilson rampaging from deep, and Tommy Seymour stepping past a gaggle of red shirts when the ball was shipped in his direction for the first time in the match. Horne slotted an offside penalty and it was game on.
Suddenly Stuart Hogg was sniffing out opportunities to run the ball back at the Scarlets, Seymour and DTH van der Merwe were getting more and more into the game, and the inter-play from forwards and backs was asking the home team all sorts of difficult questions which hadn’t been posed during the first 40. But when Horne kicked the ball out on the full twice in as many minutes, and then Grant Stewart dropped an easy ball in the middle of the park, that momentum drifted away.
A scrum penalty got the scoreboard ticking again for the Scarlets. Then a devastating moment of déjà vu killed Warriors hopes of success stone dead when Price sent out a flat pass without looking from a ruck on the right-hand side of the pitch and about ten yards inside the Welsh team’s half. Gareth Davies saw it coming, pounced, and romped home from 60-yards. It was as close as you can get to a carbon-copy of the try Price gifted Davies just over two months ago when they were playing for Scotland and Wales, respectively, in the opening match of this year’s Six Nations.
To compound matters, Hogg sent the restart out on the full, Jonny Gray coughed up possesion in contact and Nick Grigg was penalised well within kicking range for blatantly slapping the ball out of Davies’ hands as he tried to get it away from the base of a ruck. Halfpenny was now back in the groove and slotted the points.
The gap did narrow to ten points when Horne appeared at the back of a mini-ruck and caught Scarlets out by taking the route-one option before releasing Henry Pyrgos to score in his first minute on the park after replacing Price.
If Warriors thought this could be the catalyst of a famous fightback then Scarlets had other ideas. The Welsh side squeezed the rebellion out of their opponents with their set-piece dominance.
And the hosts finished with a flourish, when great hands from James Davies under pressure released the excellent Patchell on the right wing, and he skipped inside Horne and Leila Masaga to snatch his second try of the night.
Scarlets: L Halfpenny; S Evans, S Williams (D Jones 75), H Parkes (S Hughes 46), I Nicholas; R Patchell, G Davies (A Davies 65); R Evans (D Evans 76), K Owens (R Elias 75), S Lee (W Kruger 43), T Beirne (L Rawlins 75), S Cummins, A Shingler (W Boyde 69), J Barclay, J Davies.
Glasgow Warriors: S Hogg; T Seymour, N Grigg, S Johnson, D van der Merwe (L Masaga 73); F Russell (P Horne 40), A Price (H Pyrgos 60); J Bhatti (O Kebble 40-75), G Turner (G Stewart 3), Z Fagerson ( S Halanukonuka 56), T Swinson, J Gray, R Harley (C Fusaro 60), C Gibbins, R Wilson (S Cummings 56).
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU)
Scarlets: Try: Patchell 2, G Davies; Con: Halfpenny; Pen: Halfpenny 3.
Glasgow Warriors: Try: Pyrgos; Pen: Horne
Scoring sequence (Scarlets first): 5-0; 8-0 (h-t) 8-3; 11-3; 16-3; 19-3; 19-8; 24-8; 26-8