Glasgow started their RaboDirect Pro12 campaign with a tricky visit to fortress Ravenhill, amid plenty early season rustiness.
In front of the usual raucous and one-sided crowd, Glasgow probed straight from the kickoff; Duncan Weir was lively and running more than the usual lines. Even at this early stage though, the Ulster midfield was solid and repelling all attempts to make decent ground. Although both defences looked up to the task, the opening quarter saw the ball belong to Glasgow.
When things broke down you could see both teams were not quite up to speed. Hooker Finlay Gillies was keen, but gave away a couple of silly penalties, one of which was kickable. With first choice stand-off gone early to the injury room, Niall O’ Connor stepped up and slotted the points. Given some of his later kicking he probably wished he hadn’t set that precedent.
Ulster weren’t totally on the side of the angels either, and Weir kicked the first penalty chance he got following a couple of kicks from hand that put Glasgow in excellent field position. One of them gave Peter Murchie a half chance to kick the ball towards goal, but his Ulster counterpart picked the ball up and ran into space – until he was hauled down by the tenacious Fusaro. I’ll probably write that description of Glasgow’s openside plenty more times this season.
Despite Glasgow’s infringements continuing, O’Connor’s kicking boots deserted him and his frustration was taken out on Finlay Gillies with a shoulder barge as they chased a rebounding penalty attempt.
The visitors lost Al Kellock after only half an hour to what looked like ankle knock. The absence of their chief enforcer didn’t stop Glasgow trying their usual brand of ferocious but occasionally illegal rugby, and the penalty count mounted.
Seymour was binned for a repeated breakdown infringement, leaving Ulster an attacking scrum short of the Glasgow line. After a good bit of time-wasting by Glasgow, Ulster eventually got the ball moving and put it through the hands for wing Michael Allen to cross untroubled. O’Connor missed the conversion, leaving it 8-3 at half time after a brief period of Glasgow possession and a missed drop goal from Weir.
In the second half Chris Cusiter and Ryan Grant entered the fray. Glasgow continued to look good at scrum time and the general impression was of a close game, especially when Glasgow increased the pace despite still being down a man. Weir threw a pass wide when patience was needed and Gilroy picked it off to run the length of the park. It was a shame to concede the try as the Warriors were showing attacking intent and making good half breaks. Ulster hadn’t really strung any possession of note together but they were 15-3 up and cruising.
After that they started kicking for territory, forcing Glasgow to play all the rugby in their own half.
Bringing on John Barclay and Moray Low helped briefly and kept continuity in a powerful Glasgow scrum, but even with 20 minutes to go they were forcing the issue a little with ball in hand. After a seemingly well-scored Jackson penalty veered on to the post at the last minute and Ulster stole the resulting lineout, momentum was slipping away from Glasgow.
For a group of players not quite settled into their rhythms yet, this game proved that nothing quite beats experience, as older heads like Cusiter, Barclay and Morrison dragged Glasgow back into game. On the other side, John Afoa and Nick Williams were similarly impressive, especially in the first half.
After some strong runs by a resurgent Barclay, replacement stand-off Ruaridh Jackson floated a wide pass into the arms of a curiously unmarked Tommy Seymour who scorched down the line to score. For a frightening second it looked like the former Ulster player might try a kick, but refreshingly he backed himself and burned his man to score the try. Jackson converted and Glasgow were, if nothing else, within bonus point range.
Clearly dissatisfied with this state of affairs, Ulster hammered on the Glasgow line searching for a penalty, and the ref duly obliged. They had a chance on 72 mins to go clear again but O’Connor missed again and it wasn’t until the 78th minute that they made the score 18-10 with a sitter in front of the posts.
Comfort could be taken from Glasgow not conceding a try, and they never laid down, fighting for a drop goal; fighting to scramble back in defence when it was charged down.
Scrappy, as you’d expect. You wouldn’t want to start the season with nothing to work on, would you?
SRBlog Man of the Match: Nick Williams, although he had a quieter second half. The defining moment was the soft intercept try for Gilroy. Otherwise with no clear stand-outs it was a Dan Parks MoM style game. Only O’Connor was poor. That may have been more of an explanation than you wanted.