DEPRIVED of 22 members of their squad and all their current internationals, Glasgow’s clash with an Ospreys side conversely boosted by the return of a moderate quota from their own national contribution provided a worrying challenge to the Scotstoun side’s ability to retain their proud position at the top of the Guinness Pro12.
That Warriors prevailed 19-16, after a contest of ebbing fortunes and fine margins, to open up a four-point gap at the summit, despite their efforts being undermined by a horrendous penalty count as they repeatedly fell foul of the pedantic Irish referee George Clancy, bodes well for the challenges ahead.
The portents, whatever the realities of the team sheet, were positive for Gregor Townsend’s men, given that the visitors had not beaten them since March 2011, prior to a run of six Warriors’ victories, while the Welsh last had success to savour in Glasgow way back on 25 September, 2009, via a 26-16 win at Firhill.
However, although this gritty victory will take Glasgow forward with renewed belief that they can claim their stated ambition of a home play-off semi-final, the leg injury to Tyrone Holmes, which saw their only fit senior openside stretchered off moments before the break, added an anxious sub-plot to an otherwise vital victory.
Yet try-scorer Pat MacArthur, who broke an eight-year duck with Warriors’ only touchdown, has no doubt that Glasgow have the depth and the belief to cope with the demands of the annually exacting Six Nations period.
“This four-game series during the Six Nations is a massive part of the season for us but we believe we have the depth to cope with it. Obviously with this being a home match, and Ospreys one of our major rivals for the play-offs, there was extra significance to it. The be all and end all was to get the win and I think the character we have in the squad helped us achieve that,” said MacArthur.
“The key was that we knew there was no need to panic and if we kept at the game plan we knew we would create the chances and so it proved. You know it is going to be physical against the Ospreys, there were a few penalties, but that is the intensity of it. Yes, with the scrum there were some issues but both packs were going hard at it.
“Now we have Munster and we know how tough that will be but we look forward to that challenge and we will embrace the physicality of it.”
Reflecting on the first touchdown of his senior career, MacArthur admitted he will savour the moment for some time to come: “2007 was my first game for Glasgow and there has been a lot of effort put in there and finally I have a try to show for it and quite an important one, as that was a great win for us and you don’t know how important it could be down the line. So it was just great to get the monkey off my back and get my first try for Glasgow. It’s one I won’t forget in a hurry.”
With their set-piece functioning well the attacking scrum that followed Al Kellock’s legitimate charge on Sam Davies’ attempted free-kick helped Glasgow take the lead after 13 minutes of front-foot rugby from the home side. From the scrum Glasgow sucked in their visitors’ defensive alignment in front of the posts before Niko Matawalu switched right and MacArthur powered past Ospreys’ No 9 Martin Thomas to touchdown in the corner. With a little help from the crossbar, Peter Horne converted to put Glasgow 7-0 up.
Yet Glasgow’s increasing ill-discipline offered the visitors some succour and Davies took two of the four penalties that came his way to keep the Ospreys in touch. The limited nature of Welsh ambition and the one dimensional high-ball game that did, however, cause Glasgow worrying consternation, was an increasing source of frustration.
As the game slid towards the interval Glasgow at last got on referee Clancy’s good side and a Horne penalty duly sent Warriors in at the break 10-6 in front and punished a rare Welsh transgression.
Yet Glasgow failed to build on an early Horne penalty after the interval and the momentum suddenly shifted back towards the Welshmen when Tom Grabham latched onto a pass off the top of a lineout and eluded two woeful home tackles to touch down under the posts. Davies converted to make it 13-13.
Glasgow were soon once again in Clancy’s bad books and a third Davies penalty put the Ospreys in front for the first time 16-13, as play became increasingly concentrated in the Glasgow half, with Steve Tandy’s men starting to apply a stranglehold on proceedings. Yet Glasgow re-grouped and with Matawalu moved to scrum-half from the right wing the home side started to turn the tide with greater pace, increased tempo and precision and another Horne penalty reclaimed parity with 12 minutes left to play.
As time ticked on only some desperate defence saved the visitors just metres from their whitewash but Clancy pinged the Ospreys scrum and Horne slotted his fourth penalty to take Glasgow 19-16 clear with five minutes left. When Davies’ kicking boots deserted him on a long-range penalty, Glasgow held on to extend their unbeaten run against Ospreys to seven games and their lead at the top of the Pro12 to four points.
An impressive ball carrying contribution from Fraser Lyle on his home debut and a sparkling first start at nine by Ali Price are further reasons to afford head coach Townsend some mirth over a glass of his favourite Black Stump vin rouge.
Scorers: Glasgow – Try: MacArthur. Con: Horne. Pen: Horne (4). Ospreys – Try: Grabham. Conv: Davies. Pens: Davies (3).
Glasgow: P Murchie; N Matawalu, R Vernon, F Lyle, DTH van der Merwe; P Horne, A Price (R Hughes, 64); R Grant (A Allan, 41), P MacArthur (K Bryce, 63), R De Klerk (Z Fagerson, L Nakarawa (F McKenzie, 58), A Kellock (capt), J Eddie, T Holmes (W Bordill, 34), J Strauss. Subs not used: C Braid, G Bryce.
Ospreys: D Evans; T Grabham, J Spratt, J Matavesi (T Habberfield, 28-32), D Howells (H Dirksen, 10); S Davies, M Roberts (T Haberfield, 75); R Bevington (M Thomas, 2), S Baldwin, A Jarvis ( D Arhip, 65), T Cavubati (R Thornton, 51), T Ardron (capt), J King (J Bearman, 65) J Tipuric, D Baker.
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