Northampton Saints 41
Glasgow Warriors 15
STUART BATHGATE @ Franklin’s Gardens
IF you have flaws in need of ironing out, you may as well find out about them sooner rather than later – and Glasgow certainly displayed a few flaws in this match as they came off second best to slicker, smarter opponents in this pre-season friendly, their last outing before their PRO14 campaign begins with a visit to Connacht.
Indiscipline was one problem – George Horne and Ruaridh Jackson were both yellow-carded in a first half which saw the Warriors down to 13 men for a spell – but that arose in part from frustration at the Saints’ superiority. Glasgow were at their best in some moments of individual brilliance, notable from Niko Matawalu and DTH van der Merwe, whereas Northampton shone collectively.
The seven-tries-to-three defeat could easily have been heavier, and a taxing evening was made worse when Sam Johnson had be carried off in the second half after being knocked out. The centre had taken a head knock after tackling Harry Mallinder, and needed treatment on the pitch for several minutes before being taken away on a stretcher.
“He was taken off to hospital, but he was conscious when he left and seemed a lot better,” head coach Dave Rennie said. “It was a severe knock.”
Bumps and bruises were the only other physical concerns Glasgow came away with, but Rennie was certainly given some food for thought by a defensive performance that never seemed to function properly. “The lack of communication really hurt us,” he continued. “The quality of the tackle technique wasn’t good enough. They’re all things we can tidy up.
“You’ve got to give Northampton credit. There were times when we defended from multi-phase but they just kept coming. They dominated territory and possession and we just lacked patience once we got behind.”
Rennie had made a dozen changes from the side that beat Harlequins six days earlier, with Johnson being the only back to begin both games but moving from 13 to 12, and Darcy Rae and Scott Cummings keeping their places at tighthead and lock respectively. There were still some significant absentees such as Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray, but this was line-up was nonetheless markedly closer to a full-strength team.
Northampton’s starting 15 was not exactly short of firepower either, especially in the pack, where Ben Franks was at tighthead, Courtney Lawes at lock and James Haskell at blindside. Dan Biggar began at 10 – though lasted no more than a couple of minutes before a knock saw him taken off as a precaution – while former Edinburgh back Piers Francis started at inside centre, and hooker Dylan Hartley had to wait as patiently as possible before coming off the bench for his first game since England’s Six Nations loss to Ireland five months ago.
Saints and sinners
Having beaten the Dragons 42-10 in Newport in their previous friendly, the Saints came into this game in just as buoyant a mood as the Warriors, for whom last Saturday’s 50-17 win over Harlequins in Perth had been if anything a little too straightforward. If a tougher test was what the Warriors wanted, they certainly got it from the opening exchanges, which saw the home side go ahead through a Haskell try in the left corner
Even if the scoring pass looked suspiciously forward, Northampton deserved the lead after some heavy early pressure which had begun when Lawes punched through a hole in midfield with worrying ease. Just as the Warriors were beginning to exert some pressure of their own, Horne was sinbinned for talking out of turn to the referee, and the 14 men soon became 13 when Jackson also saw yellow for a deliberate knock-on just metres from his own goal line. The Warriors suffered double jeopardy, too, as match official Christophe Ridley awarded a penalty try.
Tommy Seymour opened the visitors’ account midway through the half after being put through by Matawalu, but Adam Hastings was wide with the conversion attempt.
Even when Horne and Jackson returned, the Warriors defence continued to look out of sorts, and it was no surprise when Northampton stretched their lead through a lineout drive finished off by hooker James Fish. Matawalu soon replied with his team’s second, even if it did not look like he had grounded properly.
A 17-10 deficit would have been more than acceptable for Glasgow at the break, but Cobus Reinach stretched the Saints’ lead back out to a dozen points in the last minute of the half. Tom Collins had done the initial damage, and when possession was in danger of being lost, Luther Burrell got it back in a guddle on the ground before supplying the scoring pass to the scrum-half.
There were substantial alterations made to both teams at the start of the second half, but the pattern of play remained the same, with the Saints continuing to dominate and Glasgow doing all they could to stay in the contest. Right-winger Ken Pisi got Northampton’s fifth try of the night just minutes into the half after a slick passing move culminated in a superb offload from full-back Ahsee Tuala.
When Reinach got his second try to make it 32-10, any prospect of a Glasgow comeback was dead and buried. Just to emphasise his team’s superiority, James Grayson added the two points – the first successful conversion of the night from either side.
That score took much of the remaining sting out of the match, and the contest was further becalmed by a lengthy hold-up for treatment to Johnson. The Warriors centre, who appeared to have landed badly after tackling Harry Mallinder, had to be stretchered off.
A powerful run from DTH van der Merwe saw the Canadian international barge past several would-be tacklers before touching down, and although the conversion was again missed it was a heartening sign of character in adversity from Glasgow. That was as good as it got for the visitors, however, and Grayson had the last word with a try which he converted himself to take his team past the 40-point mark.
“We got beaten up a bit tonight,” Rennie accepted. “We’ve learned some lessons about discipline and building pressure. We know we’ll have to be a hell of a lot better heading to Connacht.”
Northampton: A Tuala; K Pisi, R Hutchinson, P Francis, T Collins; D Biggar, C Reinach; A Waller, J Fish, B Franks, D Ribbans, C Lawes, J Haskell, H Brüssow, T Harrison. Substitutes: M Haywood, D Hartley, W Davis, F van Wyk, E Painter, A Ratuniyarawa, J Gibson, L Ludlam, M Eadie, A Mitchell, J Grayson, N Tuitavake, O Sleightholme.
Glasgow: R Jackson; T Seymour, S Johnson, A Dunbar, N Matawalu; A Hastings, G Horne; J Bhatti, G Turner, D Rae, S Cummings, G Peterson, R Harley, C Gibbins, R Wilson. Substitutes: K Bryce, G Stewart, A Allan, O Kebble, A Nicol, A Davidson, M Smith, A Ashe, N Frisby, B Thomson, P Kelly, N Grigg, R Nairn, D van der Merwe, R Hughes.
Northampton: Tries: Haskell, penalty try, Fish, Reinach 2, Pisi, Grayson. Cons: Grayson 2.
Glasgow: Tries: Seymour, Matawalu, Van der Merwe.
Scoring sequence (Northampton first): 5-0, 12-0, 12-5, 17-5, 17-10, 22-10 half-time, 27-10, 32-10, 34-10, 34-15, 39-15, 41-15.
Yellow cards –
Glasgow: Horne, Jackson.
Referee: C Ridley (England).