Rugby returned to one of the world’s finest sporting pantheons in Cardiff, and although most of it wasn’t particularly of high standard, it saw a pair of magnificent tries as the Pro14’s Conference A also-rans played out a generally sloppy affair.
Both teams exchanged a series of long-range kicks before a penalty was given to Glasgow, but then the play went from one end to the other through the hands.
Ryan Wilson knocked on with Glasgow 5m from the line, and Ashton Hewitt wriggled and raced away down the left-hand side towards the Glasgow 22, only for his forced off-load to land in the hands of Warriors’ slightly-Welsh named winger, Lee Jones.
A Glasgow knock-on slowed the madness down, which led to Sam Davies knocking a penalty over to give Dragons the lead.
The Warriors exerted some pressure and dominated territory – a delightfully weighted kick by Sean Kennedy forced Dragons into a 5m scrum, at one point – but couldn’t get on the scoreboard, and one midfield spill got hacked on by Sam Davies to push Glasgow back.
Adam Hastings, who was selected at full-back but often made himself available to play first-receiver to take the pressure of Ross Thompson, recovered brilliantly and then Dragons’ replacement Ben Fry – an early replacement for the injured Ollie Griffiths – was sent to the sin-bin.
Warriors took full advantage with a kick to touch which led to a try for the returning Fraser Brown off the back of a maul, but Hastings turned from hero to villain when he saw yellow for a high tackle on Hewitt, who had again shown his threat with ball in hand as he slalomed towards the line.
Hastings was maybe a bit lucky not to have conceded the penalty-try for his infraction, but Davies reduced the deficit off the tee, regardless.
Joining Hastings in the “hero-to-villain” camp, but not quite the naughty step, Fraser Brown was penalised for a no arms tackle as he went for the chop, and he would be relieved to see that the attacking platform it awarded Dragons didn’t quite end in a score.
Gonzalo Bertranou was millimetres away from being awarded a try as he slid into the corner, but maybe-kinda-almost lost possession of it as he hit the deck, and Glasgow managed to escape.
Glasgow again got a bit lucky when a smart Dragons line-out move ended with a knock-on from 5m from the line, then they got a bit lucky with their own scrappy line-out, but Rufus McLean brought what was an end to the ten-minute period of scrappiness with what must be the try of the season.
Richie Gray managed to slap the challenged line-out back to Kennedy, he fed McLean just inside his own 22, and McLean chicane-stepped past three defenders in the space of a phonebox, (younger readers may to use Google images for that analogy) and engaged his turbo down the right-flank. With plenty still to do as he got into the Dragons’ half, he split-stepped and went outside Hewitt, raced past Jordan Wiliams and dived into the corner for a quite unbelievable score.
Half-time: Dragons 9 – 17 Glasgow Warriors
Aside from the McLean and Hewitt lighting up the first-half with their electric running, it had been scrappy and error-strewn.
More mistakes led to chances for Dragons and although Ryan Wilson prevented a try being scored, he saw yellow for bringing down a maul illegally, but Rob Harley then gave Dragons a second attempt with a needless high tackle.
Richie Gray saved the day at the line-out, and managed to hold a poor one on Glasgow’s own throw, but Dobie’s middling box-kick saw Dragons attack again. Fergusson escaped another yellow card for a deliberate knock-on as he dived for the intercept, but Dragons’ stand-off Davies did reduce the deficit from the penalty.
Both teams were trying to play adventurously, albeit nowhere near perfectly, and Jordan Williams got a bit of revenge for being mugged off by McLean when he cut a lovely line and ghosted through to put Dragons in the lead, and they extended it by going through the basics and running phases until Matt Screech burrowed over.
When the clock got down to under 10mins remaining, Adam Hastings opted for a quick tap rather than the line-out option. It got Glasgow closer and closer to the Dragons’ line, Rhodri Williams even took a yellow card as Dragons defended their line, but predictable pick and gos eventually saw pushed Warriors into touch. Jamie Dobie thought he’d maybe grabbed a losing-BP, but he too had a foot in touch.
And with that, another fixture in Glasgow’s tumultuous, interrupted Pro14 season drew to an all too familiarly disappointing close. The “maybes, should’ve or could’ve”s of possible victories comfortably overshadowed by the number of times the bigger teams steam-rollered the former champions. One final fixture against Bennetton remains, which will be somewhat overshadowed by the competition final kicking off a few hours later next Saturday.
The new recruits for next season are plentiful, but they have a lot of ground to make up, and with the likes of Mclean and Thompson coming through, maybe we can hold a bit of hope.
SRBlog POTM: a lot of players did okay but nothing over average, apart from Rufus McLean with his obscene finish in the magnificent setting of the freshly opened Principality Stadium.
Referee: Dan Jones (WRU)