Bath and Glasgow have both had impressive starts to their domestic seasons but stuttered in recent weeks, so the newly-minted European Champions Cup came round at just the right time to refocus things.
George Ford, the man who put paid to Tom Heathcote treading water at Bath and forced the move north to Edinburgh, kicked a penalty to open the scoring after 4 minutes.
Bath’s less heavyweight (than some you see) centre pairing of Kyle Eastmond and Jonathan Joseph perhaps allowed Townsend to put two of his lighter but more gifted footballers together in midfield in Pete Horne and Mark Bennett. This paid dividends after just ten minutes when Mark Bennett skipped past Guy Mercer then Gavin Henson, and barrelled Eastmond over the line for a try to give Glasgow the lead.
Glasgow lost their hard-won momentum almost immediately as Hogg fumbled a long kick right on the edge of the bright Autumn sun and the stand’s shadow, leaving the ball open for Joseph to gather and scamper over unchallenged.
If the expanded Scotstoun crowd came for tries, they were already being rewarded.
Glasgow put together a series of nice attacks with Bennett and the two wings Maitland and Seymour incisive, and the soft hands of Nakarawa putting hearts in mouths perhaps earlier than we would want. When a Bath forward was caught at the bottom of the ruck, Weir kicked the penalty to bring the scores equal, and then another moments later for Glasgow to retake the lead after 23 minutes.
Bath immediately came back at Glasgow with a series of attacking lineouts, but despite a stern talking to from referee Jerome Garces they were able to steal the ball and keep their lead.
From there, the home site upped the pace a bit.
An extremely well crafted try followed as first Bennett and then Hogg practiced the almost lost art of drawing their man and passing. By the time the ball reached Maitland on the wing he was well up to speed and had too much for the Bath defence. Weir missed the conversion but Glasgow were looking very dangerous. They had another close chance after some great running from (once again) Tommy Seymour, spreading it one way then the next until an anguished Nakarawa knocked it on inches from the line.
The Glasgow scrum was dominant under the whip hand of Euan Murray, and found them camped well into the Bath 22. Rather than resetting it for seconds, Pyrgos took a quick tap from behind a crowd of home players and Hogg’s pace was too much. Fixing the defender he spun it out to Seymour who dived over in the corner. For a moment it looked like Seymour – and Scotland – may have paid for the sneakiness of the Glasgow scrum half, as the winger went down in the corner clutching his knee. Luckily it looked more a dead leg than an ACL but he would be replaced for the second half.
With a brisk wind, the conversion out wide was missed again, and Weir’s penalty moments later was denied by the upright so Glasgow’s lead was not as large as it might have been. But they were in control. When they attacking ball, dual first receivers in Hogg and Weir were able to disguise where the ball might go and Glasgow could do that with Russell, or Horne on the park too.
Half Time: Glasgow 23-10 Bath
With Strauss being rested, the opening exchanges of the second half allowed us our first real look at Adam Ashe at Number 8 as he broke into space, running some nice lines and passing well. Reminiscent of Johnnie Beattie with the ball in one hand. The move ended up with the French TMO in the corner as Seymour’s replacement DTH Van Der Merwe was bundled over, but was adjudged to have knocked it on.
The usual raft of replacements on 50 minutes can often kill momentum for a side in the groove, but for Bath (who were not) it had the opposite effect. Suddenly they had the edge in the scrum, and backs like Anthony Watson were able to find gaps in the Glasgow midfield. The home defence held, but Bath were now looking for a way back into the game and Glasgow could not afford to lose concentration.
If Bath’s scrum was giving them heart, the Glasgow back three continued to find space, with Maitland gaining some territory with a nice break that luckily for Bath ended in more scrums. With Glasgow getting sneaky offloads in almost at will, Bath’s scramble defence did very well to limit the home side’s scoring chances but with plenty ball of their own couldn’t seem to break Glasgow down.
Glasgow brought on their own replacements with twenty minutes to go. After swapping for the excellent Henry Pyrgos, the inevitable cameo from Niko Matawalu begged the question: hero or villain?
It turned out to be hero, after Tim Swinson dived on an open ball at the back of a ruck and Niki hot-stepped into space. His unorthodox grubber caused havoc at the feet of Ford and Watson. With Maitland and Bennett also in attendance it was always going to be a nightmare fo the defence. Bennett managed a foot on it and it bounced loose; it was fitting that Niko could gather the bonus point try himself, with an exuberant dive.
Bennett, who had a superb game – playing as Glasgow were, in their coach’s image – made the most of a neat offload in minimal space and after passing to DTH who then kicked it on, Bennett was able to regather for his second try and Glasgow’s fifth.
Bath didn’t score in the second half.
A word on the pack: despite patchy scrums and a so-so lineout, their utter control of the tackle area gave Glasgow a settled defence and quick ball at will when they wanted to attack. Which was often. Fusaro, Gray, Ashe, Harley and Murray were all very good.
It might not have been what you would consider Townsend’s top XV, but it is almost certain that in terms of his blueprint for how Glasgow should play: this was pitch-perfect.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Pyrgos controlled the game brilliantly but for me it was Mark Bennett. Possibly a career defining game for the young centre. Solid in defence, lightning quick pace and thought in attack, scoring two tries and arguably creating one of the others. Creates things for others too, as good centres should. Surely in line for a cap come November.