If you have to play Ulster at Ravenhill, common sense dictates that you play them early on when pre-season rustiness is apparent, and Ruan Pienaar and Stephen Ferris are not. So it was that a strong Glasgow side went to Belfast seeking to continue their promising start to the season.
The first half, as with the whole game, was dominated by defending with both sides getting on the wrong side of the ref including returning Lion Ryan Grant who was unable to scrum to the satisfaction of the man in the middle. Ulster made the most of their opportunities with four penalties from the boot of Paddy Jackson, while Hogg – taking kicking duties off Ruaridh Jackson – had two of his own and a miss.
Probably the highlight was a kick and chase from DTH Van Der Merwe which almost ended in a try, but instead ended with the Canadian sliding into the posts head first, to winces from the crowd. That one will be on Rugbydump.
In terms of spectacle it was a similar story in the second half. Neither side was truly awake in attack, but both had obviously spent plenty of time working on defence in pre-season. Glasgow’s tackling technique looked impressively physical and young Jonny Gray put in some important tackles, none more so than holding up a sure try scorer over the line.
Well-rested following Lions duty, Hogg didn’t get much time on the ball, or luck when he did and was given little to do but kick (poorly) or run up blind alleys.
Lamont went off possibly with an injury in the second half, but before that had been throwing himself about all over. Since the summer tour he looks revitalised. Playing 12 didn’t do Mark Bennett many favours either save for one chance to do some foot-dancing that didn’t get far, but both he and Lamont put in some powerful tackles.
And they needed to: Glasgow spent the 25 minutes following half time in their own half, defending. That they didn’t concede a penalty until 66 minute mark was some sort of achievement, but when they did Ulster were canny enough to try and make the most of their possession and edge the scoreboard out rather than finding the try that was deserting them.
Defending staunchly 6 points adrift is one thing; having no ball and needing two scores in 13 minutes is quite another. Luckily for Glasgow – and they had plenty of luck tonight – Paddy Jackson missed the penalty attempt, to keep them in with a chance.
As if recognising the ludicrous nature of it all, karma conspired to give Moray Low a brain-implosion with ten minutes to play that would leave the visitors a man down just when it looked like they might still have a chance of more than a losing bonus point.
Glasgow, as is their nature, ignore that sort of thing and duly set about playing at least the vital minutes of the half in the right position, man down or no. Great line speed and first up tackling put Ulster under severe pressure on their own line and Glasgow had one dastardly scrum to make a game of it. This being rugby, needless to say it was reset just as Glasgow were away with the ball; the second one turned into a penalty for Ulster.
Their motto is “Whatever It Takes”, so Glasgow came straight back at them. DTH Van Der Merwe had a wobbly first half with a few dodgy interception attempts but here he scythed through an imperceptible gap after some good build-up play, with Warriors pouring through after him. Ulster were pinged for offside so Glasgow tapped and went, thrashing their way close to the line. One Jackson pop-pass to James Eddie later and the big replacement was over for an improbable try.
As the Ravenhill crowd was stunned into silence, Stuart Hogg ended his quiet game with a conversion when it mattered most: to seal the win.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Complete team effort which usually means the pack did sterling work. Vernon, Strauss, Fusaro and Holmes all played well but Rob Harley was exactly what Glasgow needed. He even managed to keep the mammoth Nick Williams under control. Jonny Gray was also very impressive.