Glasgow took on the Ospreys in a crucial RaboDirect PRO12 clash tonight with potential play-off spots on offer.
The stakes meant it was a nervy first half from both teams with Glasgow trying more, but failing more. The Ospreys are not as starry a side as they have been in the recent past but they had no shortage of Welsh internationals in their ranks and were not short of determination either, taking the game to Glasgow from the off but like the home side being let down by last minute errors.
It was clear this wasn’t going to see four tries scored in total, let alone by a single team.
Irish referee John Lacey was at least fairly even handed with the penalties but with the game heavily contested between the 22s, neither side earned much that they fancied kicking.
With Mark Bennett on Sevens duty, Finn Russell, playing at 12, had one notable break in the first half. As usual, Josh Strauss was making ground with almost every carry, and Jonny Gray was a physical force in the pack. Also as usual, Niko Matawalu kept everyone on their toes.
Ospreys’ fly half Dan Biggar earned the only points for either team of the first half with a penalty kick. He fancied another extra long range one with the wind behind just before half time, but was overruled by his skipper and the sides went in only 3 points apart. With the wind behind them for the second half, Glasgow would have been satisfied with their first half efforts, if not exactly happy.
There was more of the same in the second half with Matawalu as lively as usual, but perhaps giving himself a little bit too much licence to play Fiji style, and not Weegie style; lapses in concentration aplenty. The man who has kept him hanging out on the wing, Chris Cusiter, was as sharp as he has been all season and it is still baffling why the Scottish coaching staff are the only ones who can’t see he is the form scrum half in Scotland by more than a mile or two.
Outside Cusiter, Murchie is looking lively after his return from injury but perhaps too little ball was given to Russell and Dunbar when their channels seemed the ones that were most profitable in terms of making yards. Glasgow’s precious possession was either run too narrowly into the embrace of the rapid Ospreys defence (led by Justin Tipuric and Alun Wyn Jones) or too wide, ending up in a forced pass or turnover. Dunbar was replaced with half an hour to go having done little wrong, and Richie Vernon given the job of battering ram.
Weir got Glasgow on the board early in the second half, after a spell that saw Glasgow raise their intensity up front, to the delight of the typically vocal Scotstoun crowd.
After a quiet spell when both sides were starting to feel the toll in terms of injury stoppages, Cusiter was replaced by Maitland and Matawalu moved inside to wreak even more havoc on everyone’s nerves. Weir settled things somewhat with another penalty to take the lead for the first time with twenty minutes to play. The diminutive fly-half cuts a much more confident figure after his prolonged spell in the Scotland shirt. He still makes the odd silly mistake, but is much more adept at making up for them.
Biggar was an assured presence for the Ospreys too, and he evened things up with quarter of an hour to play. Still, Glasgow were lucky not to concede a try so they will once again have been counting their blessings as the clock ticked onwards.
One quick strike could easily have seen them suffer with too little time to recover, and so it was that the Ospreys cut Glasgow open and only a flying cover tackle from Sean Maitland saved the points again. But it couldn’t stop the visitors recycling and Biggar dropping a goal to win back the lead.
A tight game yes, but needless to say, there was more Niko lunacy still to come.
The Fijian snuck through one of those gaps round the ruck only he can find, and without much space once the defence recovered and perhaps fearing a clattering he punted it hopefully towards the try line. Tommy Seymour streaked towards it and got a hand on it. Usually this sort of moment ends in an inconclusive knock on, but the crowd behind the goal area roared, certain they had seen a touch down, and the TMO confirmed Seymour had done excellent work to get there and get an arm on it.
Weir missed the conversion and another penalty shortly afterwards but it kept the pressure on the Ospreys who were desperate to score. Finn Russell looked like he had put the game to bed and denied Ospreys the bonus point, but Josh Strauss was judged to have gathered the ball from an offside position and the try was not given.
And so from denying the visitors even a bonus point, Glasgow went to the prospect of collecting one themselves as Ospreys threw one last attack at them and holes started to appear.
Luckily, that man Matawalu – who thoroughly deserved his Man of the Match this week – was on hand to bat down Biggar’s second drop-goal attempt and boot it back down the other end. He couldn’t succeed as Seymour had and pick up another try, but Glasgow at least grabbed the win as the Ospreys defenders were bundled haplessly over their own line in front of a roaring Scotstoun crowd.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Niko Matawalu