Glasgow were a solid, confident team in the closing stages of last season, this season they’ve clearly learnt from last year when early inconsistency cost them dear in the hunt for a home final. The Dragons were something of a bogey team last season too, having beaten Glasgow home and away.
With than in mind it was a confident start for the Warriors as Alex Dunbar took a try after only 4 minutes, breaking through the Dragons defence on a deceptively simple line.
Thereafter Glasgow were playing to their strengths: a free-flowing, fast offloading game that – when they get the precision levels demanded by Gregor Townsend right – is at worst frustratingly great fun to watch, and at best nigh on unstoppable.
Lyn Jones’ and Kingsley Jones – Welsh Rugby’s Sean Connery and Harrison Ford – have a youthful looking Dragons side (plus Andy Powell) who are also keen to play heads up rugby, with former Edinburgh man Richie Rees doing his best to contain Niko Matawalu and launch attacks of his own. Outside him, it was young fly-half Angus O’Brien who got the Dragons on the board with a penalty in front of a rowdy Rodney Parade.
Quiet in the first half with the ball in hand, Stuart Hogg stepped up to make his contribution with a long range penalty on the half hour mark.
Glasgow could have had another try had Toby Faletau not timed his dive at Matawalu (sprinting away after an interception) closely enough that the officials didn’t feel it worth a second look. It could quite easily have been a penalty try.
Matawalu went off just before halftime and the Dragons came hard at Glasgow with Aled Brew to the fore, but Glasgow’s defensive backs are well drilled and capable going in either direction. It feels odd typing that about any sort of Scottish back division.
Bang on half time, the Glasgow front row led by Euan Murray dominated yet another scrum, and Lloyd Fairbrother was sent to the bin giving the visitors the prospect of a man advantage for the start of the second half.
HT Dragons 3-13 Warriors
The carding continued at the start of the second half when Tyrone Holmes – who had been effective in the tackle and the loose to that point – was being held into the ruck by prop T Rhys Thomas, lying on the floor. He stepped down with his foot to remove the offending arm, the officials heard “stamp” and “shoulder”, ballsed up the TMO coverage so only the TMO could adjudicate and Holmes was red carded for severe foul play.
Complaints about a cabal of Welsh officials aside, it changed the complexion of the game considerably, and the atmosphere within the ground as the Dragons’ fans and players smelt blood. None of which was on Holmes’ boot, now resting in the stands.
With their arch game chaser in Matawalu off injured and even the scrums starting to go against them, Glasgow were now in a dogfight. Instead of an advantage, they faced level pegging for about ten minutes before seeing out the rest of the match down a man.
Glasgow are nothing if not dogged though, so Strauss and Pyrgos picked themselves up and put their team through a serious of powerful drives right into the Dragons half, helped by the dynamic second row of Nakarawa and Swinson, and it was Strauss himself who heaved over for the try. Weir’s conversion made it 6-23 and gave Glasgow the cushion they sought to face the half hour they would spend a man down.
If Strauss was the catalyst for Glasgow, for the Dragons it was Richie Rees who brought the Welsh side right back into it with his try on 58 minutes. O’Brien converted and the gap was back down to 10 points.
Glasgow were looking a little stretched – as you’d expect – but they still put extreme effort into keeping their side of the scoreboard going upward with sound tactical play.
Strauss limped off with quarter of an hour still to play and all over the park there were bodies breathing heavily at every stoppage. Young front rowers Alex Allan looked up for it when he came on, as did Fraser Brown. It was almost a case of: the Glasgow pack were doing the running, while the back three did the defending.
Luckily both were up to it.
With ten minutes to go, that changed as Seymour and Hogg combined brilliantly with a textbook try. Off a wide pass from Pyrgos, Hogg curved outside his defenders creating an overlap and passed with perfect timing to Seymour who was flying just outside him. Hogg had a troubled end to last season with the Warriors but the little flashes show he’s still a class act and with a serious challenge to be mounted in Europe by this squad, he’ll get his chances.
So it was that the Dragons would have felt right in the game after the red card; yet with ten minutes to play Glasgow were hunting a bonus point and the missing man almost seemed an irrelevance.
The constant pressure from Seymour, Van Der Merwe and Hogg allied to intelligent kicking from Weir and Pyrgos gave Glasgow an attacking lineout. They caught and drove, and Swinson deservedly claimed the bonus point try with another simple move to send the Warriors home happy.
It was an interesting game to watch. The Dragons were without some of their more experienced heads, but the way Glasgow adjusted their tactics subtly to enable them to keep playing rather than wilting was fascinating to watch. The sensation of not worrying when someone is sent off is also refreshing.
Whether they can look this confident and assured when they step up to Europe will say a lot about how Scotland’s season might go too.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Josh Strauss. A phenomenal presence on the rugby pitch. In the pack Swinson and Nakarawa were also excellent and Dunbar was the pick of the backs.