Glasgow travelled to the Sportsground determined to be the first team in Pro 12 history to win away in a Semi-final. Gregor Townsend and others had spent the week coming up with a master plan to beat the odds.
This plan was shattered after just 59 seconds.
From a Connacht line out, Finn Russell flew out of the line to make a tackle. Zander Fagerson also barrelled into the challenge. The clash of heads was brutal, with Fagerson heading off for assessment (he didn’t return) and Russell being stretchered off on oxygen.
The rumours coming out of Galway hospital would suggest that Duncan Weir may have to cancel his summer beach holiday to replace Finn in Japan, as this won’t be one he’s back from next week (we wish Finn all the best in recovery).
From this point on there was a sense of inevitability of the outcome, aided by the wonderful play of the home side. Time and again Bundee Aki, Matt Healy and AJ McGinty broke the Glasgow line, and it was a miracle that the away side were only 3 points down after 25 minutes, with the wind meaning both sides decided for the most part to ignore the chance of 3 points from kickable penalties.
Glasgow hit straight back after McGinty’s successful penalty, Weir slotting his own from right of the posts but the attacking play was all Irish. After seeing a nice effort chalked off for a knock-on in midfield by Aki, the home fans finally got their reward when the Nigerian wing Niyi Adeolokun latched on to a clever grubber kick from Aki. The flyer showed great strength and electric pace to burst through 3 Glasgow tackles to score. From a defensive perspective this will have Matt Taylor screaming murder, and I fear the Glasgow lads might be in for a pasting in pre-season. McGinty added the extras and a 7 point lead seemed about right.
Glasgow had chances to reduce the gap before half time, with a 5 metre lineout, but our old friend discipline cost us dear, with Ryan Wilson guilty. The half ended with the Warriors held up under the posts, after some cracking defiant defence from Connacht.
Half-time: Connacht 10-3 Glasgow
Glasgow returned for the 2nd half, and like most games this season the rocket from Gregor had an immediate impact.
Some clever play from Stuart Hogg gave the Warriors field position, and some nice lines from Leone Nakarawa and Mark Bennett took the play up to close to the try line. Finally, some composure from Nakarawa, as well as that telescopic right arm, allowed the Scotstoun men the try they needed. Weir missed the extras but it was finally game on.
This year’s vintage of Warrior does seem to make a habit of making silly decisions straight after scoring, so some kamikaze play in their own 22 allowed Connacht another chance to attack them, and they were again lucky to only concede 3 points. Al Kellock would not have stood for play like that last season, and this indicates an area where Jonny Gray will have to do some learning.
On 57 minutes the Warriors got another shot at goal, with Weir knocking over to make it a 2 point game with 20 minutes to play but the penalty count was starting to resemble a cricket score. Marius Mitrea had a bee in his bonnet for most of the game regarding the Warriors rush defence, and after a final, final, final warning for Gray and the team, the yellow card seemed all but inevitable with Connacht camped on the Glasgow 5 metre line. The card didn’t arrive, as a poor underthrow in the Connacht lineout allowed Glasgow off the hook.
The green waves kept pounding the Glasgow defence and a strange penalty decision in the scrum, where Ryan Grant seemed to have his opposite number on toast but was pinged for boring in, resulted in McGinty extending the lead back to 5 points: 16-11 with 10 minutes to play.
Mitrea finally got his yellow card out on 73 minutes – but the home side were on the receiving end, much to the disgust of the local fans who by this point probably felt it was a refereeing conspiracy. A poor high tackle on Hogg sent Rodney Ah You off to the bin, but even with a man extra the Connacht line could not be breached.
There were tears from the Scots at the end, but in truth the result went as it should have. Too many things that were key to victory did not happen for Glasgow – in this game and the season – and the home side were miles ahead on the day.
We will never know how key those first 59 seconds would have been but congratulations to Connacht who are sure to have the hearts of the neutrals at BT Murrayfield next weekend.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Many of the Glasgow players came off second best to their Connacht counterparts, and the sponsor’s award for Bundee Aki was very predictable by half time. On the Glasgow side D’arcy Rae had a very decent 79 minutes and was the pick of the bunch. Mention too for Leone Nakarawa who was excellent in his last half of Warriors rugby.
FINN RUSSELL UPDATE: Finn Russell remains under observation in hospital following his head injury. However, his condition has improved significantly over the last couple of days and it’s been confirmed that he does not require surgery. Russell was transferred from University Hospital in Galway to Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, and is expected to be discharged later this week.
His return to training date will be determined when he is back in Glasgow.
“Glasgow Warriors would like to thank the Connacht medical team, players and staff for their support. The club would also like to thank the University Hospital in Galway and Beaumont Hospital in Dublin for all their help. Finn and his family really appreciate all the messages of support, with which they have been inundated.”