By Brodie McGregor, direct from Firhill:
Over the past couple of seasons Connacht have taken over the mantle of Glasgow’s bogey team from Newport Gwent Dragons, given Glasgow have not beaten them since October 2009. So, heading into this vital game in the push for a playoff place in the Pro 12, nothing could be taken for granted. Adding to the pressure of the game itself was the occasion – the farewell to “Fortress Firhill”, farewell to the departing players, and farewell to head coach Sean Lineen and his trusty defence coach Gary Mercer.
After the now obligatory standing ovation for Lineen the players took to a sun-drenched, if rather chilly, Firhill. Glasgow started with intent and were rewarded with a penalty within three minutes. The normally trusty boot of Weir pushed the penalty attempt wide of the far post. Connacht restarted with a 22-drop out which led to them securing a scrum after a rather unconvincing Garryowen from Weir. This scrum was quickly followed be a second after Ryder was unable to take advantage of some good work by Fusaro who in tackling the scrum half dislodged the ball only for Ryder to knock on. Given the mess that scrums have become they seem to be as much an opportunity for a team to gain a penalty as they are a competition of the relative strength of the packs.
Connacht duly won a penalty on their own 10 for Glasgow not engaging square, and kicked into the Glasgow half. Neither side seemed capable for stringing phases together without loosing the ball or knocking on. At the next scrum it was Connacht who gave away a penalty and Weir stepped up just before the ten minute mark to register the first points for the home team.
Indecision by Harley at the restart led to pressure on the Glasgow defence. Pygros cleared and the game entered another phase where each team struggled to retain possession. Yet in Naoupu, Muldoon, and Fa’afilli Connacht had willing ball carriers that began to break the Glasgow line and test their scramble defence. The pressure lead to a penalty from Glasgow not releasing the tacked player. Nikora dully converted, meaning that after 14 minutes it was all square. These were however to be Connacht’s only points of the evening, despite Glasgow never looking comfortable.
Connacht started to pressurise after this and twice chipped over the Glasgow three-quarter line, the second of these promising moves being stopped by Graham Morrison slapping the ball in the air for which he was lucky not to concede a very kickable penalty. The game lacked any flow given each side’s propensity to knock on. Glasgow extended their lead just after 20 minutes through the boot of Weir when the Irish team were adjudged to be off side at a ruck and Glasgow were awarded a long range penalty. 6 – 3 Glasgow.
Connacht were not content however to gift Glasgow a play off place and were the better team with ball in hand at the mid point of the first half with George Naoupu at the heart of all they did that was good.
They were also adept a slowing any Glasgow ball down – by fair means and foul – meaning the home side struggled to get on the front foot and you could nip to the loo and back before Pygros got the ball away from the base of the ruck. Despite this slow ball and Connacht endeavour it was Glasgow who, on the back of good line out ball, scored the first try of the evening.
Dunbar, who again showed up well, burst the Connacht defence and linked well with Glasgow captain for the night and eventual man-of-the-match Freddy Aramburu. Quick ball from one side of the pitch to the other sent DTH van der Merwe over for his second try in his first home start this season. Weir missed the conversion from out wide leaving the score at 11 – 3 after 26 minutes. Which is how the half ended.
Both teams returned for the second half unchanged whereupon a game of ping pong broke out as both sides tried to pin the other back with the boot. As in the first half Glasgow were first to register point with Connacht penalised for being offside after Dunbar made another good run to give Glasgow some go-forward. Weir successfully kicked the resultant penalty on 47 minutes.
Ten minutes into the second half and the subs benches started to be used. Welsh and Hall went off for Glasgow to be replaced by Grant and MacArthur, and Ah You replaced Buckley for Connacht. Three minutes later the men from Galway freshened up their back row with Ofisa coming on for O’Connor. Continued use of the bench with stand-off Nikora and wing O’Halloran being replaced by Jarvis and Loxton meant the game became a little fractured, and Glasgow looked to play territory by kicking deep.
Weir was successful with another penalty to extend the lead to 17 – 3. The break in play while the restart was organised allowed Glasgow to empty their subs bench with Low, Gray, Pygros, Weir and DTH all making way for Cusack, Kellock, Cusiter, Jackson and Shaw. The introduction of Kellock made an impact as within a few minutes of being on the field he had made more yards with ball in hand than the departing Gray had done in the game so far.
Glasgow extended their lead after O’Donohoe the Connacht scrum half was shown the yellow card for needlessly getting involved with Cusiter after referee Fitzgibbon had awarded a penalty to the visitors. The penalty was reversed and from the next scrum on the Connacht 5 metre line the Glasgow pack drove the Irish scrum backwards allowing Barclay at number eight to flop on the ball for the try. Jackson converted taking the score to 24 – 3 after seventy minutes.
And that is how the scored remained despite late pressure from Connacht which resulted in Barclay being sent to the bin for hands in a ruck on the Glasgow line. From the resulting penalty Connacht tapped and went eventually driving over the Glasgow line under the posts. The TMO was unable to award the try so play went back to a 5 meter scrum where the ever impressive Naoupu picked up and crashed over the line only to lose the ball forward.
At the final whistle the crowd of 5,374, Glasgow’s second biggest Pro 12 crowd of the season, stood to applaud their team making it to the play off’s for the second time in three years, the leaving players and staff and also say a fond farewell to Fortress Firhill.
Dundonian Alan has played rugby all over the world for various teams including Dundee High School, Heriot's and the Scottish Club International. Now writing from London he covers all issues international and unreported.