The pitch at Scotstoun might not have been in great shape, but Glasgow Warriors proved they have become genuine title contenders as they ticked another Irish province off their hit list at the crunch end of the season.
Neither was this a team keeping their powder dry for Europe as perhaps Munster were last weekend, but an Ulster team looking to take out their European frustrations on a Glasgow team they have put away in the past both home and away.
Even in the face of this threat, Glasgow had named another untried 10-12-13 axis with Finn Russell replacing Duncan Weir and Pete Horne forming a threatening if slight in stature grouping in the midfield with Mark Bennett. You wouldn’t know it to watch them though, with all three putting in crunching tackles on much bigger men to do their bit for the defensive confidence Glasgow have as a cornerstone of their gameplan.
As is usual with Glasgow these days the game was played at a furious pace to open, with Maitland and Bennett making the most of any half gaps they found. Plenty other things don’t change; it was Josh Strauss leading the charge for Glasgow up front too, although playing at 6 on this occasion.
Russell opened the scoring with a penalty, but it was Ulster who looked like scoring the first try. Only staunch defending from Glasgow – Russell included – the order of the day in the face of Ulster’s battering rams. They did concede the penalty though, which Paddy Jackson duly kicked to even the scores on 21 minutes; he then kicked another three minutes later to take the lead.
It got even worse for Glasgow three minutes after that, as Ryan Wilson got on the wrong side of referee John Lacey at a ruck and was given some time to go and contemplate his crimes. Jackson kicked the points and Ulster looked like they could just keep the board ticking over quite happily if Glasgow continued to infringe.
Under Townsend Glasgow have become quite effective at raising intensity when required and the period just before half time saw renewed enthusiasm as Bennett broke through three tacklers then spun a pinpoint pass to Horne who juggled it but threw a needless offload from the deck. The move broke down, but as Ulster started emptying the bench even before half time the Scotstoun crowd smelled blood.
Russell and Maitland provided the score that was required, linking nicely and Maitland cutting one of those angles he does so well to scamper under the posts and edge the lead at half time.
HT Glasgow 10-9 Ulster
It didn’t start well for Ulster with a player sent almost straight to the bin, possibly aided by some slyly restrictive wrestling from Chris Fusaro. Nevertheless Russell kicked it to increase the lead.
Moments later Tommy Seymour made the most of the advantage to score, not your classic winger’s score but buried in the heart of the rolling Glasgow pack from close range. Lacey was perhaps unsighted, but gave the attackers the benefit of the doubt. Russell converted from out wide to continue an impressive performance for the young man and send the Scotstoun crowd into song.
By the time the sides were equal in numbers, Glasgow had carved out an 11 point lead.
Ulster came close to scoring with half an hour to play, but hard hitting defence from Tommy Seymour shattered their momentum and put Glasgow back on the front foot. The next time they came calling Nick Williams looked to have crossed the line with about the same amount of clarity as Seymour’s effort but this time Lacey went to the TMO whose view of the key angle was cunningly blocked by a certain Mr C. Cusiter.
Things became miserable for Ulster thereafter as Tom Court – who clearly had something horribly wrong with his shoulder was forced off and the visiting team were left without a replacement prop having tactically substituted them all earlier.
To add to the misery, Mark Bennett skipped through the defence and was denied a try by the ball slipping from his grasp as he reached to touched it down. Nobody told the TMO though, who thought he saw a grounding and awarded the try. Thin margins, but Glasgow are taking everything they are offered this season.
Glasgow were clearly in the ascendancy in all areas of the game and it opened the hosts up to the possibility of a bonus point – something they have struggled with this season.
A searing counter-attack from Murchie and Maitland almost went the length of the park and in the phases ensuing the scrum, Murchie had only to pass or offload for a simple try but the ball was jarred loose by a crunching tackle from Trimble and Glasgow left to regroup again.
Not even Niko Matawalu could conjour some magic for a try in the dying moments and it was once again a great win but one that could and perhaps should have been 5 league points instead of 4.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Bennett was excellent, as were Cusiter and Strauss (as usual) but Finn Russell was a calming influence at 10, very good in defence and great from the kicking tee. Plus he seems to be on the same attacking wavelength as Bennett, Maitland et al.