Glasgow’s faint hopes of making the play-offs for a fifth successive year withstood a sustained challenge from feisty, free-running Pro12 champions Connacht at Scotstoun in a match between two sides who had come to attack at every opportunity.
The result was a contest in which the momentum swung one way and then the other, with Glasgow only finally getting on top after the match exploded into life in the second half with a high tackle on skipper Peter Horne by Connacht’s Jack Carty. However, Glasgow also lost Tim Swinson to a red card, which if upheld will see him miss next week’s Champions Cup quarter-final at Saracens.
Connacht started like a runaway express train, wave after wave of attackers launching themselves at the Glasgow defensive line, and within five minutes they had the score their monopoly of possession merited. Although there were some lovely bits of handling as the ball was flung about, it was centre Bundee Aki and full-back Tiernan O’Halloran who turned intent into yardage with some neat footwork and great acceleration, wing Niyi Adeolukun profiting as he went over in the right corner for a well-worked try.
Glasgow hit straight back with a Finn Russell penalty when the visitors went over the top in their own 22 from the restart, and with their urgency and intensity ignited by Connacht’s early score, Glasgow were soon ahead on the scoreboard. Corey Flynn’s try had its genesis in a rare misplaced Connacht kick in Glasgow’s half, with full-back Stuart Hogg latching onto it and kicking downfield. Although Connacht’s scramble defence stopped the try, Glasgow spread the ball and worked the defence until a gap appeared and the veteran hooker forced his way over from close range.
Connacht, though, were not cowed. Pat Lam’s side love to give the ball width, and on a gloriously sunny day on Clydeside the ball was zipped across the artificial turf of Scotstoun with genuine intent at every opportunity. Not that Glasgow gave an inch. In fact, in second row Brian Alainu’iese, who tackles like the Honey Monster’s psychotic big brother, they had an awesome physical specimen whose hits could be heard in the stand. One double tackle where he hit Kieran Marmion so hard he had to leave the field, was followed by a poleaxing of opposite number Quinn Roux which drew gasps of horror from the crowd.
Yet the gargantuan Kiwi could do little to halt Connacht’s ascendancy in the last 15 minutes of the first half as the Irishmen moved the ball quickly away from contact and tried to run around Glasgow. It yielded results, too, Craig Ronaldson kicking a penalty to bring the score back to 10-8, and then Connacht skipper John Muldoon going over in the left corner after the ungainly figure of second row Andrew Browne had run thirty metres down the middle of the field, only being hauled down in the Warriors 22.
For Glasgow to maintain hopes of overhauling Ulster and Scarlets –15 and 12 points ahead of the Warriors at the commencement of hostilities – Gregor Townsend’s men really needed a bonus point win. Yet despite their attacking intent, they turned around trailing, having scored just the one try.
Glasgow’s over-eagerness did themselves few favours immediately after the break. First captain Hogg dropped a perfect scoring pass, then Nick Grigg threw an uncatchable pass to Rory Hughes with a simple run-in beckoning. A nagging sense that this might not be Glasgow’s night was strengthened when referee Ian Davies wrongly penalised Glasgow in front of their own posts and Ronaldson kicked Connacht 18-13 ahead. But then Finn Russell stepped up, man-of-the-match Ali Price taking on the fringe defence and popping the ball to the stand-off, who rode two tackles to go over. His conversion gave Glasgow a second try and a 20-18 lead.
Going for broke, Townsend changed the whole front row in an effort to up the intensity. He need not have bothered, with a horrible high tackle from Carty on Horne doing exactly that, sparking a 30-man rammy in which Hogg and Aki did more than square up. In a couple of seconds Scotstoun went from being the venue for a frenetic but good-natured contest into a bearpit as the Glasgow crowd bayed for red.
Carty was lucky only to see yellow, but Glasgow were clearly energised by the kerfuffle. From the resulting scrum they came close to a pushover, only for Price to pick up and skip inside two tacklers before powering through Muldoon for a score which gave them a nine-point lead and put them within a try of a bonus point with 25 minutes remaining.
Yet instead of Glasgow pulling away, only a remarkable try-saving tackle from Price stopped Adeolokun claiming his second try. Yet Ronaldson still kicked a penalty after Swinson was penalised for a swinging arm at a ruck. With Connacht just six points behind, a late Horne penalty soothed frayed Warriors nerves, only for Cooney to cut Glasgow’s lead. Only with Sean Lamont’s try two minutes from time did Glasgow finally settle this encounter.
Scores 0-5 Adeolokun try; 3-5 Russell pen; 8-5 Flynn try; 10-5 Russell con; 10-8 Ronaldson pen; 10-13 Muldoon try; 10-15 Ronaldson con; 13-15 Russell pen; 13-18 Ronaldson pen; 18-18 Russell try; 20-18 Russell con; 25-18 Price try; 27-18 Russell con; 27-21 Ronaldson pen; 30-21 P Horne pen; 30-24 Cooney pen; 35-24 Lamont try.
Glasgow: S Hogg (P Murchie 66); S Lamont, N Grigg, P Horne (capt), R Hughes; F Russell (A Dunbar 55), A Price (G Horne 66); A Allan (G Reid 52-66), C Flynn (F Brown 49), S Puafisi (D Rae 52), T Swinson, B Alainu’uese, R Harley, M Smith (L Wynne 52), A Ashe (S Cummings 66).
Connacht: T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, C Ronaldson (T Farrell 66), S Ili; J Carty, K Marmion (J Cooney 26-30 & 55); D Buckley (R Loughney 30-21 & 66), T McCartney (D Heffernan 52), F Bealham (D Robertson-McCoy 53), Q Roux (J Cannon 66), A Browne, S O’Brien (N Dawai 61), J Heenan, J Muldoon (capt).
Referee I Davies (Wales)