Glasgow took a huge step towards a home semi-final as Niko Matawalu’s two first-half tries helped Warriors to a bonus-point victory over Connacht.
Scorers: Connacht: Tries: Muldowney. Cons: Carty. Pens: Carty 2. Glasgow: Tries: Matawalu 2, Hogg, Ashe, Seymour. Cons: Russell 3.
Armed with the knowledge that they were already assured of a top-four finish, Gregor Townsend’s troops punished a wasteful Connacht who were unable to take advantage of two second-half sin-binnings for Glasgow players.
Despite bossing the game territorially and conceding three times fewer penalties than their visitors, Connacht had to be satisfied with Aly Muldowney’s try and two Jack Carty penalties and a conversion as their sole reward as their dreams of a top-six finish took a severe dent.
Along with Matawalu’s brace, Stuart Hogg crossed in the first-half as they led 19-6 at the break, but late tries from Adam Ashe and Tommy Seymour put a gloss on the scoreline.
“Obviously that had guaranteed us a semi-final so the next goal is to try and finish in the top two,” said Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend.
“So we’re a point better off than we were last week compared with Ulster. We’ll see how Munster and Ospreys get on [they both recorded bonus-point wins yesterday, Munster winning 30-19 against Benetton Treviso, Ospreys defeating Cardif Blues 31-23].
“But we know we’ve got to win at least one game in our next two matches and they’re big games, Ospreys away and Ulster at home.”
Even though Connacht trailed 19-6 at half time they had a solid start as stand-off Carty twice kicked penalties two punish some ill-discipline from Warriors.
Glasgow were always going to gain a foothold at some stage and it materialised in the 26th minute. A Connacht scrum didn’t go according to plan and Glasgow broke – some of their off-loading was sensational – and when the play was switched Fraser Brown found Matawalu who raced home for their first try.
Finn Russell missed the conversion and Connacht still led 6-5 after 25 minutes, but Carty missed a couple of penalty kicks.
But then Warriors showed why they were the league leaders and, with Connacht sloppy off their own lineout, they moved their way up field.
Seymour found a gap in the Connacht defence and he broke, finding Hogg on his shoulder and the former Lions full-back touched down for Glasgow’s second.
Russell’s conversion made it 12-6 and, with Connacht reeling, Matawalu pounced as Robbie Henshaw was trying to put Tiernan O’Halloran through to take possession and race in for his second of the day.
That was on the dot of half time and Russell’s second successful kick of the day from the conversion made it 19-6 at half-time.
“That was very important,” said Townsend. “We would’ve been probably happy 6-5 down the way the first 35 minutes had gone so to be 19-6 up at half time was fortunate but you’ve got to make the most of your opportunities.”
But Connacht are a third-quarter team and after the break they found their stride again as they looked for a way back into the game.
Glasgow were being penalised frequently and eventually referee Marius Mitrea got fed up and showed Seymour yellow when he was off his feet.
That prevented a scoring opportunity for Connacht but more were to come – Muldowney was on the end of one of them to make it 19-13 when Carty converted.
It was after a period of intense pressure where Henshaw was held up close to the line and with Denis Buckley diving for the whitewash he was stopped only for Muldowney to be on hand to get the vital finish.
It was a real shot in the arm for Connacht at the time and it looked like they would move even closer when Carty was presented with a penalty directly in front of the posts.
But he skewed his kick poorly and the heads began to drop as the momentum swung in favour of the visitors.
Chris Fusaro was show yellow on the hour for a high tackle on Eoin McKeon but Connacht couldn’t push home their advantage and when Josh Strauss broke the Connacht line, he put Ashe away for the bonus-point try.
The result was never in doubt from here and Seymour’s try in the 74th minute denied Connacht any chance of securing a losing bonus point.
Connacht: T O’Halloran (D Leader 55); D Poolman, R Henshaw, B Aki, M Healy; J Carty (M Nikora 63), K Marmion (J Cooney 51); D Buckley (R Loughney 69), T McCartney (S Delahunt 75), R Ah You (F Bealham 69); U Dillane (A Browne 53), A Muldowney; J Muldoon, E Masterson (G Naoupu 60), E McKeon.
Glasgow: S Hogg; T Seymour, R Vernon, P Horne, N Matawalu (L Jones 71); F Russell (D Weir 78), H Pyrgos; J Yanuyanutawa (R Grant 40), F Brown (K Bryce 45), E Murray (J Welsh 40); L Nakarawa (T Swinson 55), J Gray; R Harley (J Strauss 55 (P Murchie 73)), C Fusaro, A Ashe..
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy). Attendance: 4,430.