With Edinburgh having recently travelled the short distance to Belfast and been thoroughly dismantled, Glasgow’s considerably more confident offering travelled over the Irish Sea in expectation of something a little better. Conditions were better too, welcoming Glasgow with crisp autumn sunshine.
There was a late shuffle in the back three as Murchie fell out through illness forcing Maitland to 15 and Lamont in from the bench. Hogg was not in the matchday squad to fill in, presumably rested like Dunbar and Weir with ongoing rotation and Europe in Gregor Townsend’s mind.
The most mouth-watering clash looked like Josh Strauss and Ulster’s behemoth Nick Williams at Number 8 but it was the marginally slighter figure of Strauss who had the early impact, with a chargedown setting Ulster hearts aflutter early on and some carries making ground through the middle. Williams had an impact of a more direct nature with a late hit on Euan Murray that gave Finn Russell an early penalty chance which he took well.
Ian Humphreys slotted one in return moments later after some good driving play from the Ulster pack, and the pack earned him another after quarter of an hour when Ulster’s pack got to Euan Murray and referee Nigel Owens blew up.
Owens showed moments later the feel for the game that has made him the top referee in the world at the moment, after Sean Lamont was involved in a midair collision for a high ball with two Ulster players. There was nothing in it and Owens rightly let it be. The ire of the Ravenhill crowd was increased when Russell slotted a second penalty for Glasgow just moments later.
Ulster kicked another penalty in short order and then the Ulster pack really started to boss the game, forcing Glasgow into scramble mode after Trimble broke from deep in the Ulster half, followed up by a series of punishing carries from the home forwards.
They upped their efforts in the set-piece also, dominating the Glasgow front row of Gordy Reid, Fraser Brown and Murray and putting together some impressive driving mauls.
By the time Humphreys slotted another penalty to make it 15-6, Glasgow were under heavy pressure with Nakarawa in the bin and Ulster were looking confident led by the ever impressive Rory Best.
Glasgow showed some intent with a few strong carries from Brown, Tim Swinson and Strauss but there was plenty to be improved for the second half.
HT Ulster 15-6 Glasgow Warriors
Nick William’s rather extreme brand of physicality continued in the second half with a strange wrestling drop on Sean Lamont earning him a talking to from Owens who had not failed to notice that a few of his big hits had been borderline. Russell slotted the penalty to get Glasgow’s train rolling once again.
Glasgow put some great attacks together with Maitland and Lamont leading the charge, but Ulster’s scramble defence was superb. For every nice offload from Glasgow there was a shunting tackle that knocked all the momentum out of the move.
It gave the game a frantic feel, with both sides looking for every half gap. Both Tommies, Bowe and Seymour, were excellent in this period and Bowe only just knocked on when attempting to gather a kick that would have given him an easy try.
Ulster were content to get into Glasgow’s 22 and pepper the defenders with kicks for Bowe and Craig Gilroy to chase, but the makeshift back three held. The closest was probably a ball that hovered by the touch line in goal, watched on the replay as it dropped onto the line milliseconds before the excellent Stuart McCloskey could touch it down.
Ulster were unlucky, but exactly where they wanted to be, in Glasgow’s half and in control. Glasgow on the other hand were struggling to gain any momentum to get them back where they needed to be to score points.
An injury to Mark Bennett gave them a long pause to regather – and bring on Niko Matawalu, to see if he could salvage the try they needed to retake the lead.
The victory spark though came from Ulster’s Craig Gilroy, whose run off the back of a driving maul and fleet-footed pace took him past several defenders (Matawalu included) to scamper round for a try and stretch Ulster’s lead to look insurmountable.
From there Glasgow chased too much and when you find props going nowhere in the tackle and trying offloads like Murray’s with ten minutes to play there’s always a Tommy Bowe on hand to pounce on the intercept.
His simple try handed Glasgow their first defeat of the season.
Glasgow will take heart from the performances of Seymour and Bennett while Strauss perhaps will need a rest sooner or later – especially once the Autumn Internationals appear. Is a European fixture against Bath really the place to throw in Adam Ashe? Russell looked confident at 10 but the real issue lay with the pack’s ability to provide momentum for the backline to play off. Swinson is effective but alongside him perhaps there is scope to bring in a bit more muscle with Gray or Kellock the likely choices.
It’s a tricky one as Glasgow were technically in this one for all but the last quarter of an hour, yet came away with defeat. When they really needed a step up in momentum, there didn’t seem to be one available even with Niko on the pitch.
There is at least plenty that can be improved upon for the start of the European Cup next week.
SRBlog Man of the Match: For a Glasgow player it had to be Tommy Seymour who was tireless in attack and defence and never gave up hope or direction. Interestingly, his newfound physicality may make him the first name on the Scotland team sheet come November.