Ulster made the short hop over the Irish sea to take on a Glasgow side containing the returning Finn Russell at 10. Other changes for the Scots included first starts for Tijuee Uanivi and Lewis Wynne in an already depleted back row. We’re only in week four.
Both sides have been playing nice rugby this season, but the weather in Glasgow was at its worst. Horizontal rain would prove tricky for the kickers, but it didn’t stop the entertainment as both sides set out to dominate the contact area. Some of the hits coming in were bone-jarring and it’s no surprise that the injury count in this one was high.
The first ten minutes were all the way of the visitors, with the Ulster backs seeing plenty of ball. Charles Piutau was unsurprisingly very involved, showing quality throughout with some sensational running that made Glasgow’s all international backline look a bit amateur. Ulster took the first points on the 6 minute mark, having missed a penalty on 3 minutes, with a solid thump from Paddy Jackson bisecting the posts. An early warning was also issued to Glasgow co-captain Jonny Gray over discipline by referee Ian Davies.
Ulster thought they had the first try of the game on 9 minutes, with a lovely move finished by Darren Cave. Referee Davies had the TMO review a bit of foul play 6 phases previously where Iain Henderson had stupidly dumped Tommy Seymour out of a ruck. Davies rightly chalked off the score and also saw fit to put Henderson in the sin bin for the indiscretion. A big let off for the Scotstoun men, and not the first.
Against 14 you would expect Glasgow to kick on and get themselves into the game. However Ulster are a top class side and on 16 minutes Cave eventually got his try, with lovely handling creating a huge overlap. Jackson missed the extra 2 points but 8-0 to Ulster was a fair reflection of the game so far.
With a sold out Scotstoun roaring them on, this Warriors side was always going to make a decent game out of this. Big Gordon Reid dragged the side into play with a short range try from a close range lineout, which Russell converted beautifully, making it a 1 point game after 20 minutes.
At almost every phase of play bodies from both sides were going down injured, indicating the level of intensity of which the tackling had reached. For Glasgow, who already had a decent injury list coming into this one, it was not great to see Greg Peterson, then Reid and Uanivi depart before 30 minutes. This last substitution did allow another debut, with Sam Thomson coming on in the second row beside Gray.
Glasgow’s task was to be made more difficult, again by indiscipline, but not before another massive let off from Iain Davies. A makeshift rolling break from the maul saw Ulster tear over the line, but Rodney Ah You was adjudged to have blocked Henry Pyrgos from tackling in the act of dragging his ball-carrying scrum half over the line by the collar.
A harsh decision against the burly Ulster prop, but Davies followed this up with an another dodgy call. Leonardo Sarto tried to make a tackle on Charles Piutau but was pinged for not using his arms, despite his left arm clearly being wrapped round the New Zealander’s leg. A yellow for Sarto, a penalty try – even less clear with Glasgow defenders poised to make follow up tackles – and Ulster walked into the changing rooms with an 8 point lead.
Half-time: Glasgow 7 – 15 Ulster
Glasgow got out of the blocks faster in the second half, and Russell was at his creative best, forcing the lines and calling the shots from 10. He was also kicking well, and a penalty on 46 minutes made it an unlikely 5 point game.
More was to come, and on the hour mark, man of the moment Tommy Seymour scored an easy touchdown after lovely work from Stuart Hogg to draw the defence and pop a pass through the tackle. A touchline conversion not unlike that in the playoff game against the same opposition 2 years ago had the same outcome, with Russell smiling away as he jogged back to halfway. Somehow Glasgow had sneaked a two point lead at 17-15.
The Ulstermen had only 1 win in 5 against Glasgow, but they were a superior side on the night and it was fully deserved that Paddy Jackson, after a brilliant run, would get the try to seal the win. He had been denied earlier after a superb break by another intervention from Ian Davies, but a slide over the artificial turf with Hogg clinging off him was enough to convince Davies this time that he had scored. A check of the TMO might have said otherwise, but it was not coming and Jackson converted for a 5 point lead with 16 minutes to play.
Glasgow threw the kitchen sink at the Irish defence for the last 15 minutes, but to no avail as bodies and minds tired by constant defending early on started to falter.
A deserved win for Ulster, a losing bonus for Glasgow. It was a pulsating and engaging game, but one that will have done no favours for the physiotherapists of both teams.
Let’s hope the injury list hasn’t been significantly increased.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Chris Paterson gave the sponsor’s award to Finn Russell, who had a terrific game. From a Glasgow perspective I have to agree with this but the actual best player on the park by a country mile was Charles Piutau. The former All Black was unstoppable at times. Other honourable mentions for Alex Dunbar, Fraser Brown and Lewis Wynne who was superb.