The great debate this week: should Glasgow rest their 6 Nations stars ahead of the Saracens European Quarter Final next Sunday, when every Pro 12 game is now a must win stay in the playoff race?
Gregor Townsend hedged his bets, bringing in the ‘House Party Massive’ halfback partnership of Finn Russell and Ali Price, as well as 6 Nations Player of the Tournament (and former owner of some shocking hairstyles) Stuart Hogg. Fraser Brown and Alex Dunbar lay in wait on a decent bench, as did George Horne, brother of captain for the day Pete. Sean Lamont started on the wing, on the week of his announcement of his retirement at the end of this campaign.
Connacht against Glasgow last year produced some gripping rugby, and this was to be no different as the 3G pitch and sunshine combined to bring the best out of both teams. PRO12 Champions Connacht struck first, with Glasgow having 2 touches of the ball in the opening 6 minutes. Phase after phase, with offloads a plenty from the Galway men eventually created enough space for Niyi Adelokun to cross the line. Craig Ronaldson, who started the day 100% on kicking in the league (from 11 attempts), missed wide to minimise the damage but Glasgow would have been worried given the quality that Connacht had shown in the opening salvos.
Having missed their internationals so badly this season, the Scotstoun fans would have been delighted to see the immediate step up in the quality of attack that was on offer with their return. First, an easy penalty got Glasgow on the board, then a strong chip and chase from Hogg and some wonderful control from Russell sent Corey Flynn smashing through on a superb line to score. The former All Black looked lively all day and got his reward. Russell sent the conversion over to give Glasgow a 5 point lead.
Connacht continued to play at a frankly ridiculous standard, with offloads on almost every ball. It was entertaining and effective, as Glasgow just could not slow it down. Ronaldson found his range with a penalty on 20 minutes, and John Muldoon crashed over on the 30-minute mark for Connacht’s second try, another multi-phase, well-constructed effort. The conversion swung the 5-point advantage back to the Irish, which did not fully represent their dominance. As it was, Russell had the opportunity to reduce the arrears before half time, with another penalty duly dispatched. A 2-point gap at halftime, having had just 15% of the possession, would have been something of a relief to Townsend’s coaching team.
Half-time: Glasgow 13-15 Connacht
Glasgow needed a response to keep this part of their season alive, and oh how they got it. First blood of the half went to Connacht, with Ronaldson stretching their lead back out to 5 points, but it was the introduction of Fraser Brown on 50 minutes that sparked the Glasgow team to life. The replacement hooker was outstanding at the breakdown, which finally gave Glasgow a little ball to play with.
Price and Russell started to snipe, and the Connacht defence could not cope. Russell danced his way over for the second Glasgow try on 51 minutes, with Price repeating the feat 5 minutes later for the thrid. The Price try was helped by Jack Carty, the Connacht fly half, spending 10 minutes on the naughty step after catching Pete Horne far too high. This incident sparked a 30-man cuddle but Bundee Aki was lucky to avoid further action with suggestions of a punch not found by the TMO. Russell converted both tries, then made way for Alex Dunbar with a 9-point lead at 27-18.
This incident sparked a 30-man cuddle but Bundee Aki was lucky to avoid further action with suggestions of a punch not found by the TMO. Russell converted both tries, then made way for Alex Dunbar with a 9-point lead at 27-18.
Glasgow have on many occasions this season made things harder than needs be through their own decision making, or failure to adjust to refereeing styles and this match was no different. At 65 minutes in with the home side finally in control, Tim Swinson got it very wrong with a swinging arm connecting with a Connacht head upon entry to a ruck. He may have been trying to dislodge the ball but it was reckless, dangerous, and was always going to result in a red card in the current climate. One would imagine Tim will be dusting off his best suit for a trip to a hearing to argue against a further ban. At least Jonny Gray will be back for the trip to Allianz.
With 14 men, Glasgow’s dream result of a 4 try bonus point seemed dead. Indeed, the mentality of ‘win the game first’ was very clear, with Pete Horne making the call to go for the posts instead of the corner when Glasgow were awarded a penalty on 75 minutes. He was successful, but Connacht replied with one of their own to keep the score at 6 points with 3 minutes left: 30 -24.
If you were looking for a fairytale saviour: enter 36-year-old Sean Lamont, who announced his retirement this week. The big wing had been quiet all day but finally got some space after a beautiful pop pass from Pete Horne. Talk of a lack of speed was put well behind him as he surged home, clinching the vital bonus with seconds to spare.
The Scotstoun faithful roared their delight, and Sean even had a wee smile to himself. Horne missed the conversion, but it was job done in terms of league points and Glasgow’s slim hopes of the playoffs continue to smoulder away.
Now for the big one…
SRBlog Man of the Match: The Sponsors award went to Ali Price, who alongside Russell was at the heart of the wonderful attacking from the Glasgow backs. My vote goes to Fraser Brown, who in his 30 minutes completely changed the game. The hooker really is in top form, and ‘The Game that Shall Not Be Named’ aside, he needs to be in Lions contention. Other mentions for Brian Alainu’uese, who carried and tackled all day, and Nick Grigg, who continues to act as a pocket-sized demolition man in midfield.
Glasgow Warriors: S Hogg, S Lamont, N Grigg, P Horne (captain), R Hughes, F Russell, A Price; A Allan; C Flynn, S Puafisi, T Swinson, B Alainu’uese, R Harley, M Smith, A Ashe.
Replacements: F Brown (for Flynn, 50), G Reid (for Allan, 53, Allan for Reid, 67), D Rae (for Puafisi, 53), S Cummings (for Ashe, 67), L Wynne (for Smith, 53), G Horne (for Price, 67), A Dunbar (for Russell, 56), P Murchie (for Hogg, 67).
Red card: Swinson, 66
Connacht: T O’Halloran, N Adeolokun, B Aki, C Ronaldson, S Ili, J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham, Q Roux, A Browne, S O’Brien, J Heenan, J Muldoon (captain).
Replacements: D Heffernan (for McCartney), R Loughney (for Buckley, 67), D Robertson-McCoy (for Bealham, 53), J Cannon (for Browne, 67), N Dawai (for O’Brien, 61), J Cooney (for Marmion, 26-31, 55), T Farrell (for Ronaldson, 67), J Rowland (for Adeolokun, 79).
Yellow card: Carty, 54
Referee: Ian Davies(WRU)