URC: Glasgow v Ulster: Johnny Matthews brace helps Warriors go top

Prolific hooker takes his tally to 31 tries in 56 matches for the club

Johnny Matthews celebrates the first of his two tries for Glasgow Warriors against Ulster. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Johnny Matthews celebrates the first of his two tries for Glasgow Warriors against Ulster. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

Glasgow Warriors 33

Ulster 20

DAVID BARNES @ Scotstoun Stadium

A COMPREHENSIVE win in the end after a haphazard start, saw Glasgow Warriors climb to the summit of the United Rugby Championship table after six rounds of matches, with try-machine Johnny Matthews coming off the bench to seal the deal by touching down twice in the final quarter.

On a bitterly cold night at Scotstoun, Franco Smith‘s side struggled to get going and fell 14-0 behind during the opening quarter, but they worked their way through it and after pulling level on the stroke of half-time, Warriors dominated the second 40 minutes.

“I’m very happy with the fightback from the boys,” said Smith immediately after the match. “Being 14-0 down, it was an important character test for us. We stuck to the process and showed discipline and belief. It was really encouraging to see the response from the players.

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“All the teams I have coached have always had the ability to fightback and it was something that I wasn’t hoping to see, but now that I have seen it I am very glad to acknowledge that.

“I still feel we butchered too many points in the beginning. It was easy to show in the half-time message that if we do what we do well then we will get the reward, so the belief and the character they’ve got, and the eagerness to play and win obviously underlined that.

“We’re only a third of the way through the season so being top counts for nothing, but the boys are playing better. We’ve used most of the squad in the first six rounds, we’ve had people rested and people introduced, and other small victories internally which helps a lot with the growth of the squad. We’ve just got to take the learnings from this week, keep our feet grounded and work hard going into Munster next week, which is a big challenge against the champions who we beat last season so they will be really up for it.”

Ulster dominated the first 10 minutes, earning two breakdown penalties, with the second being kicked to the corner and mauled over the line for hooker Tom Stewart to open the scoring. John Cooney added the tricky conversion.

The penalties kept coming, and the second try arrived on 11 minutes in similar fashion as the first – although slightly elongated – with Ulster kicking to the corner and then battering through several tight phases before Cooney scuttled over from the base. There was a slight delay in referee Ben Whitehouse confirming the score while he reviewed whether the Irish scrum-half had knocked on the ball as he picked up at the base, before correctly ruling that the ball had indeed gone backwards.

Warriors struck back on 20 minutes when they kicked a penalty into the opposition 22 and then, after battling through several tight phases, Sean Kennedy marked his return to the starting XV for the first time since March 2021 by replicating Cooney’s trick from a few moments earlier, although this time the scrum-half finished off with an athletic dive over some low Ulster tackling. It was his first try since December 2020.

The hosts spent almost all of the second quarter camped deep inside Ulster territory, picking up a series of penalties (but no yellow cards), before they finally struck again on the stroke of half-time by rumbling a line-out maul over the line, before hooker George Turner gratefully broke off from the runaway shopping trolley to touch down.


Glasgow started the second half in lively fashion with Sebastian Cancelliere making good ground down the right, and it looked like they had taken the lead when a smart line-out move saw Sione Tuipulotu crash over on a short ball, but a referral to the TMO identified that the centre had failed to get the ball down under pressure from three Ulster tacklers.

Warriors kept the pressure on and eventually got their reward when they softened up Ulster’s defence with some powerful forward play then spread the ball wide, with Tuiplotu’s neat tip-on creating the space for Stafford McDowall to fire a killer long pass to Josh McKay, who beelined for the corner then release Kyle Rowe at the right moment when realised that he wasn’t going to make it himself.

Tom Jordan missed the conversion and despite being down to 14 men due to the sin-binning of Kieran Treadwell for pulling down the maul during the lead-up to Rowe’s try, Ulster struck back with a Cooney penalty for a McDowall offside after a Warriors charge-down.

Smith went to his bench, with Johnny Matthews one of three players to join the fray on 57 minutes, and as sure as night follows day, the irrepressible hooker made an immediate mark with his sixth try of the season for Glasgow (in as many appearances for the club). This one – which secured the bonus point – was a beauty, with Matthews taking advantage of another slick handling move to break down the right, running it home from 30 yards a full 35 seconds after coming off the bench.

Another Ulster penalty, against Greg Peterson for taking out Stewart off the ball and slotted by replacement stand-off Nathan Doak, kept Ulster in touch, but that’s as close as they got.

Warriors recaptured the initiative on the pitch and stretched away on the scoreboard again when a sustained period of pressure eventually led to that man Matthews finding his way over the line again  taking his Warriors career total to 31 tries in 56 matches  this time from slightly closer range, a full half metre, although it still took good strength and technique to find a way through Ulster’s defensive wall.


Teams –

Glasgow Warriors: J McKay; S Cancelliere, S Tuipulotu ( D Weir 72), S McDowall©, K Rowe; T Jordan, S Kennedy (B Afshar 76); J Bhatti (O Kebble 57), G Turner (J Matthews 57), Z Fagerson (L Sordoni 72), G Peterson ( R Gray 72), S Cummings (S Manjezi 72), M Fagerson, R Darge ( S Vailanu 57), J Dempsey.

Ulster: W Addison; R Baloucoune, J Hume, L Marshall (B Moxham 63), J Stockdale; B Burns (N Doak 19), J Cooney (D Shanahan, 70); E O’Sullivan (S Kitshoff 49), T Stewart (Z Solomon 73), T O’Toole (M Moore 49), K Treadwell, I Henderson (A O’Connor 49), H Sheridan (M Rea 12-19, 52), R Crothers, J McNabney.

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)


Teams –

Glasgow Warriors: Tries: Kennedy, Turner, Rowe, Matthews 2; Con: Jordan 4.

Ulster: Tries: Stewart, Cooney; Con: Cooney 2; Pen: Cooney, Doak.

Scoring sequence (Glasgow Warriors first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-12; 0-14; 5-14; 7-14; 12-14; 14-14 (h-t) 19-14; 19-17; 24-17; 26-17; 26-20.


Yellow cards –

Ulster: Treadwell (51 mins)


Attendance: 7,216

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About David Barnes 4030 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. In Matthews first try I loved seeing the mix of forwards and backs: Fagerson getting over the gain line then Jordan setting up Vailanu and Kebble passing and hitting up and running dummy lines in the middle but then passing out the back before McDowall’s step and pass. That’s a tremendous whole team try with Jonny Matthews fabulous finish!

  2. Could be a tough call who gets the No 2 shirt for 6N…..or maybe not if Matthews keeps playing the way he is. However, really have to fix our line-out, which i totally get isn’t just on the thrower, it’s a collective effort from jumpers, lifters and callers too. I remember reading an article where Keith Wood described his hours of practice throwing a ball to hit a stick at various height graduations; that’s the kind of dedication that’s needed from all at the set piece.

  3. Why won’t Ulster’s second try disallowed for at minimum obstruction.It doesn’t matter wether the Ulster player is injured, he’s in an offside position interfering with ay. Could it also be considered a deliberate plot

    • Glad somebody else spotted that, I wondered at the time why the actions of the Ulster player were not checked.

  4. There is very little separating Ulster from our southwest coastline – both geographically and culturally – while if you looked at the half-time score you’d say that the gap between these two teams was even closer. Not so, although the Weegies must have felt stunned to find themselves 14-0 down not long into the game at Scotstoun – and boy did it sting them into action. The mindset would have been ‘You don’t do that to us, not here.’

    The tide turned slowly but perceptibly, with the Warriors botching three successive five-metre drives until that fourth maul crossed the line. Before kick-off George Turner described it as ‘riding the runaway supermarket trolley’, although he was outdone when shopper-in-chief Johnny Mathews took to the field. Mathews doesn’t deal in solitary tries, but on this occasion he showed variety to his game by popping up on the wing to finish off a fine move to register his first of a brace. The visiting defence was left in his dust – not bad for a h00ker with just 15 minutes of test-rugby fame under his belt.

    Ulster are a tough side and Glasgow had to work hard to assert their superiority. It was only deep into the second half that I felt I could relax. I doubt Edinburgh will be good enough next up in Belfast, but hopefully there will be a reaction from them to that shocking spilt-milk performance on Friday.

    The Weegies won the old title previously under Townsend – that’s how long ago it was – but this squad is different. In addition to the plethora of sabre-wielding cavaliers there are plenty of guys who are willing to do the grunt work too, at which they excel. And there is genuine depth throughout, as illustrated when Vailanu came on and scattered the opposition with his barnstorming runs. Coach Smith looked on, as inscrutable as ever, with his hand pinned to his coat like a modern-day Napoleon.

    Next up are Munster away, which is probably going to be the toughest game the Warriors will face in this regular season. They demolished the Reds in last year’s corresponding fixture – all for nowt as it turned out – but you’d need your heed examined to expect a similar result this time round. Like Waterloo, it is likely to be a ‘damned near-run thing’ and whichever side finishes on top will need to play out of its skin. Go Frankie’s boys!

  5. I attended both the Edinburgh and Glasgow games this weekend. The Edinburgh experience pre-game and at half time was great. Plenty of concessions, there were queues but moving quickly. Easy to get both food and drinks and a good atmosphere. Glasgow 42 minutes to get a horribly overpriced burger and chips £18.50 and not that good. Better than the pizza queue 2 people complained thet’d ordered paid but it was taking so long they’d given up… I had no time to get drinks and missed the first 12 minutes of the game. Queues for drinks at half time even worse, I gave up. I realise there is less space but the Glasgow experience has steadily deteriorated over the years and if Glasgow want to continue to attract the crowds and new watchers they have to create a better all round experience, the Edinburgh pre-game and half-time experience is so much better, just wish they could get their act together on the pitch.

      • Its the all round experience, or would you rather go back to wooden stands everyone standing, people smoking, no spectator cover, beer being spilt over everyone….
        We need to catch up with other sports who understand how to make it a really great day out.

    • Strongly agree with this. I was at the game on Saturday. Cold night so I thought I’d visit the famous grouse bothy for half time warmer. Stood in a static queue for ten minutes abd then gave up. What’s so difficult about serving whisky? Ulster fans behind had some good chat about the embarrassing levels of service. The ulster guys also gave up – but at least the rugby was excellent.

    • Strongly agree with this. I was at the game on Saturday. Cold night so I thought I’d visit the famous grouse bothy for half time warmer. Stood in a static queue for ten minutes abd then gave up. What’s so difficult about serving whisky? Ulster fans behind had some good chat about the embarrassing levels of service. The ulster guys also gave up – but at least the rugby was excellent.

    • Sounds like they have a decent hospitality product going at the Hive. Better than the main stadium for sure and streets ahead of Scotstoun – Warriors continue to be hamstrung by the vagaries of the council and despite it being a great little stadium, it is a worry that catering outlets are so poor. The last time I purchased alcohol at Scotstoun was on the back of an away game at Treviso. €8 for a 75cl bottle of prosecco and €2 for a beer that were chilled and quality compared to £13 for 25cl of prosecco that would have been better served on chips and a lukewarm pint of Best. Fortunately, I live in Partick which allows me to avoid the catering sideshow and focus on the rugby. It’s been more than decent since Franco arrived.

  6. Best game I have seen this season. Credit to both sides – plenty of rubgy, not much kicking, and not much time wasted at scrums. Really enjoyed it.

    I thought this was Glasgow’s best performance this year, too. First time the backs and forwards fired at the same time. Good timing, with a trip to the champions next up.

  7. Excellent win. Unlike another team I could mention this group have real belief and focus. Can they challenge Leinster and the Bulls? They’ll need to win in Munster. Absolute must win game

  8. Tough or poor first 20 not sure, remaining 60 much better. Ulster are always tough and this was a good win. Not sure why everyone is surprised over Kennedy he has always been a good no 9 , he just has had others above him in the hierarchy. Good cameo from Vailanu he always looks to go forward and Afshar made his debut and put in some good box kicks. Yet again the star of the replacements was Mathews great first try , he just keeps getting better and is a try machine. The next few weeks are going to be tough lets hope the 9 situation holds up.

  9. Only seen the highlights, but the 1st Matthews try will be on some best tries shortlists! Superb hands and angles of running

  10. Playing like this Glasgow will end up in the top 4 which would be a great achievement. Credit to all involved.

  11. What a good performance from Kennedy! A big difference between the Glasgow and Edinburgh matches was the constant poor box kicking by Edinburgh giving the ball back to opposition and Glasgow’s sparing use of the box kick and trying to keep the ball in hand. I thought Kennedy was worth MoM award.

    • its not the box kicking, its how good it is for chasers and how hungry the chasers are. Watch how often France and Dupont box kick, I think they are quite good.
      Different teams have different styles. Glasgow do not kick enough leading to heart stopping moments. Like tryin to run possession from near the goal line early on last night – didn’t escape until Ulster scored

    • I like Kennedy. I did when Glasgow first loaned him from Edinburgh due to injuries here (see the difference- Glasgow got a surplus to requirements, Edin get a British Lion)
      He was very good last night, but he played behind a very dominant pack, makes the job a lot easier

  12. Excellent from Kennedy again really showing why he was in Scotland squads. Can’t be any doubt that Mathew’s is our best hooker….no doubt he will get zero min in 6n n Ali Price will start at 9 n kick ball away aimlessly just like RWC. GT will see us scrambling for 5tb as another personal triumph.

  13. What’s most pleasing is that Glasgow are playing a game that is beating the Irish sides….and at least we should have players more confident of success against Ireland in the 6N. Of course GT may mange to do his magic and remove that confidence.

    • The 1st Matthews try was the highlight of the season so far for me, Matthews try scoring is phenomenal.
      Excellent entertainment and amply demonstrated the difference between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
      Josh McKay reminds me of Sean Maitland a Rolls Royce of a player.
      Glasgow should’ve signed John Cooney last year his kicking would’ve been perfect for this team.

      • signed Cooney? Glasgow had Price, Horne and Dobie at scrum. Deemed too many by Mallinder. How could they sign another? Cooney a good player but would have pushed Afshar further away from the main squad.

        Glasgow were fine at 9. Edinburgh need to find and develop a half back, any half back, for the first time in more than a decade. That is a coaching issue, has been for more than a decade

  14. Also a very good performance from Sean Kennedy who stepped up to the plate in challenging circumstances. Scored a very good try too.

    • For Matthews’ try I loved seeing the mix of forwards and backs: Fagerson getting over the gain line then Jordan setting up Vailanu and Kebble passing and hitting up and running dummy lines in the middle but then passing out the back before McDowall’s step and pass. That’s a tremendous whole team try even before Jonny Matthews fabulous finish!

  15. An excellent win, made all the better with the poor first 20 minutes. Thought the intensity from both sides wad right up there, and our physicality first 20 apart was the key. Matthews continues to both excel and entertain, a rare mix!

    Sione T really seems to have perfected his acceleration into contact, leaving bodies behind, and JD grew into his first game back.

    Need to start tighter, but this was a great performance. Nuff said!

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