The people of Galway have suffered of late.
Having had Ed Sheeran reference their town in one of his most recent musical abominations, wrecking-ball centre Bundee Aki is now rocking a top-knot, and they had little else to cheer about by the end of Saturday night, as the Glasgow Warriors eventually prevailed in the midst of a squall at the Galway Sportsground.
An early penalty awarded to the home-side led to some handbags, but once the dust settled, Jack Carty duly gave Connacht a 3-0 lead in the usual, wet and windy conditions associated with a trip to the west-coast of Ireland.
With the Warriors camped in Connacht’s 22m for the next few minutes, Glasgow earned a penalty at scrum-time. Peter Horne’s attempt seemed to strike an upright, only for a replay to show that the wind had pushed his effort back into play, and as Connacht tried to clear their lines, they knocked-on again. Another scrum led to another penalty, which this time Horne drilled between the posts, despite the best efforts of the howling gale, to make it 3-3.
With sketchy, sloppy play abounding, Connacht tried to keep the game tight and had a tried not given as Jarrad Butler tried to squeeze the ball onto the edge of the post, only to be denied by captain Ryan Wilson’s out-stretched mitt convincing the TMO that he had done enough to stop the score.
Connacht’s goal-line pressure was eventually rewarded with a penalty, and another 3 points from the boot of Carty. During these phases of play, Sam Johnson had taken what appeared to be a head-knock, so the prodigal son of Gavin, Adam Hastings, was brought on to play at stand-off, with Peter Horne moving to centre alongside the latest Warriors centurion, the venerable Alex Dunbar. With the next Warriorrs’ attack, Dunbar duly thundered his way towards to 10m of the try-line, only for the ball to then be spilt forward again within the next few phases, relieving the pressure on Connacht.
With the ball as slippery as Theresa May at Prime Minister’s question time, and more wind blowing than at your local chilli cook-off, any thought of a decent running rugby match, the kind of rugby which we’ve come to expect from both these teams, seemed a far way off. Two minutes from half-time, debutante Oli Kebble came on to temporarily replace Jamie Bhatti, and made an instant negative impact by giving away a penalty for side-entry at a maul.
Connacht went adventurously for a kick to the corner, knocked-on at the line-out, and you would have thought that having regained possession and 40mins up on the clock, Ali Price would’ve kicked the ball out of play. However, he played on, dished a pass out and a sloppy knock-on followed by a needless infringement gave Connacht another kickable chance, which Carty took to give Connacht a 9-3 lead at half-time.
Half-time: Connacht 9-3 Glasgow Warriors
At half-time, all I can say is that this game was not one to use to convert people to the joys of rugby union. Nor were it one for the purists. It was pretty honking.
As the “hefty shanner” (to use another Glesga colloquialism) weather conditions got more, well, shannery, at the beginning of the second half, Glasgow were in the ascendency with territory and possession for the opening five minutes, eventually leading to Horne reducing the deficit with a penalty to make it 6-9.
Then came a breakthrough. From the restart, Glasgow claimed possession, Hastings hit for territory and Connacht wing Kelleher spilled what would usually have been a regulation catch, as the ball bounced up to his midriff. This gifted Glasgow the scrum about 30m from the Connacht line. The scrum completed, some lovely inter-change play between Ali Price, Horne and Hastings, sent Price darting over. Horne added the conversion, and it was 13-9 to Glasgow, the game’s first real highlight and passage of quality play.
After that clever bit of territorial hoofing that led to the Glasgow try and more wise tactical kicking from the boot of Hastings which kept Connacht pinned back, the unfortunate youngster took a bang whilst making a tackle and had to be withdrawn with a gash on his leg. The big Italian winger Leonardo Sarto came on to replace him, and a back-line reshuffle was again required.
Shortly afterwards, Connacht’s Carty knocked over another penalty to reduce the deficit to a solitary point.
Up stepped, Sarto, one of my star performers from last year before injury cut his season short, to make a game-winning impact. Price had not used the conditions wisely in the first half, attempting box-kicks which the wind blew back on him, but when he dinked a cheeky one over the top to the left-wing, Sarto gathered, stepped inside, fended off his would-be tackler and laid the ball up for Lee Jones who gleefully lunged over the line.
For all of Glasgow’s handling faults, their defensive line-speed was impressive, and it stopped Connacht playing their usual, expansive game. When Connacht tried to go wide, they were rushed and smothered before they had the option, and particularly in the second half with the wind at their backs, Glasgow kicked behind and made them chase.
It wasn’t overly pretty, but the two tries that Glasgow put on the board were cleverly scored, and the first competitive win of the Rennie-sance period is now recorded, without talismanic names such as Hogg, Seymour, Jonny Gray, and the soon to reach legendary status (in my eyes anyway) Finn Russell. New signing Lelia Masaga was largely anonymous, bar one or two nifty side-steps when he actually got the ball, but this was not the kind of game where attacking players were given the chance to shine.
Referee: Ben Whitelaw (WRU)
SRBlog Man of the Match: On a night where many a ball was spilled, and despite some quality work from Ali Price for his try and assist for the clincher, he did make a few too many errors which could’ve been costly. So on first viewing at least, Adam Ashe gets a mention, but Alex Dunbar was thumping his way through his work as usual, gritty, unspectactular at times, but effective, and is now in the hundred club. So Dunbar gets the nod.