A physical encounter at Scotstoun saw a reduced version of the champions – shorn of more than their entire first XV – take on Pat Lam’s ever-impressing Connacht side who sprinkle Galway nuggetry with southern hemisphere physicality and flair.
Despite the culling of his squad to Scotland’s World Cup effort, Glasgow conjured some star power – circa 2007 – in the form of Mike Blair, who looks born to play Gregor Townsend’s high tempo game and controlled the first half completely.
Connacht like to throw it about too, and the opening 20 minutes saw a 6-3 exchange of penalties and a raft of injury stoppages due to some pretty hardcore tackling. Hugh Blake was on in the centre by 22 minutes, doing his best Richie Vernon impersonation, before on-loan standoff Rory Clegg made it 9-3 on the half hour mark to the chorus of cheers from the Scotstoun faithful.
Fraser Lyle had a nervy start but settled into it, and his half-break led to a sustained period of pressure for the hosts that finished with Glenn Bryce stepping through the defence for the first try.
From there Glasgow upped the pace heading into half time and Connacht sadly played into their hands, concentration slipping. Young lock Scott Cummings battered over for Glasgow’s second try, driving low to put some shine on a very impressive performance. The Warriors boilerhouse looks in safe hands post-Kellock.
Connacht snatched back a penalty on the stroke of half time but Glasgow were well worth the lead and in control.
HT Glasgow 23-6 Connacht
Cruelly ejected from the World Cup squad, Rob Harley received the easiest of pick-me-ups when Connacht scrum-half John Cooney slipped executing a box-kick clearance behind a lineout. The ball bounced into the arms of the charging Harley, who ran it gratefully over the line barely minutes into the half.
Cooney had his revenge moments later, when the Connacht scrum crumpled Glasgow’s and a simple pick and go from the base was passed into his hands for an unopposed run in. At 30-13, surely the comeback was not possible?
Connacht had the momentum though, and Jerry Yanuyanutawa could easily have been binned for a dangerous round the neck clearout and although he stayed on, the visitors kept building pressure founded on a dominant scrum.
Young Zander Fagerson on the other side of the scrum buckled after a series of set scrums and was binned, which spared him being on the park at the next scrum when referee Ian Davies marched under the posts. The Connacht pack had changed the character of the game.
Glasgow’s lead was only 10 and that lasted barely seconds before Fionn Carr gathered a neat grubber and made it 30-25.
Glasgow’s raw troops were looking a little shell shocked but they rallied to get Adam Ashe over the line after good build up play by Clegg and Bryce to spot the ever-diminishing half-gaps in the Connacht line. The TMO judged it was held up but at least Glasgow were in the right area of the pitch with a shaky lead and only 13 minutes left.
The assured Clegg kicked another penalty to ease the lead back out, but Connacht kept at it and only last ditch tackles by Glasgow saved them in the face of huge pressure, at least until 75 minutes when Connacht bundled over. It might have been disallowed had the BBC been able to find any footage of a tackle similar to Yanuyanutawa’s but this time perpetrated on Fagerson by a white player. Nothing was found and the try stood, making it 33-32.
A nail biting final few minutes saw the Warriors furiously defend their hard earned lead – the size of which was frustratingly easily lost up front. A fitting finish though to a game that was that old cliche, two very different halves of high quality rugby.
If you’d said to Mike Blair 5 years ago – during his heyday – that Glasgow vs Connacht would be a fantastic clash between potential playoff contenders and that he’d be playing, he’d probably have thought you’d had one Deuchars too many.
Times have changed, but luckily Glasgow are still finding a way to win.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Scott Cummings was hugely assured for such a young ‘un and Glenn Bryce also took his chances well. Got to go to Mike Blair though who was key to Glasgow playing at the high tempo first half that edged them into the lead. Distribution was superb and you just know he’s going to pretend he doesn’t break any more until just that special moment when it is least expected…