Glasgow Warriors 33
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.
“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.
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)
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)