IF SCOTLAND snatched a game they could have lost, then Glasgow were the flip side of the coin in throwing away a game they should have won.
It brought an end to their perfect record on the road this season and also meant they missed the chance of a clean sweep of wins in Wales, but it was more the manner that frustrated.
It was a game which saw the best and worst of scrum-half come wing or full-back Niko Matawalu, but he saved the worst till last with a wild pass from a kick that went nowhere near full-back Ruaridh Jackson.
Jackson recovered enough to take the contact and get the ball back, but it went to Matawalu, whose unhurried kick was charged down – gifting a try to replacement wing Ross Wardle. A touchline conversion from full-back Rhys Jones won the game.
The good of Matawalu was seen with a brilliant length of the pitch try just before half-time, chipping over the defence from a turnover, regathering the ball and then having the pace to score. He also made a couple of really threatening breaks.
However, while he was at scrum-half the outside backs might as well have gone home, as every attack revolved around Matawalu and taking on Newport at close range.
There is a conundrum for coach Gregor Townsend to solve in terms of how you use such an outstanding athlete as Matawalu, while still allowing the rest of the team to play.
“I thought Niko played well. He was at the heart of a lot of our positive play,” was Townsend’s verdict after the game.
“He had the kick charged down at the end but I will certainly be having a look at what happened before that. We left one guy with four Dragons in front of him so we could certainly have done that better.”
Even after that, Glasgow had an opportunity to win the game with outside half Finn Russell taking on a penalty of more than 40 metres into a tricky wind. It always looked at the very edge of his kicking range and fell just short. Centre Mark Bennett had landed an earlier penalty from a similar range, but he had been substituted.
It was therefore a game that Glasgow should have won, but they did not play well enough to put Newport away – partly because of that lack of width.
Glasgow’s first try came from a Rob Harley charge-down, the flanker getting the score himself. The Dragons hit back after spreading the ball wide, a neat touch by Andrew Coombs who made a cameo appearance for Wales against France on Friday night enabling a powerful finish from prop Owen Evans.
Their second brought them back into the game as former Edinburgh scrum-half Richie Rees broke through on halfway and put lock Cory Hill clear to run to the corner. Rhys Jones converted that from touch as well as the final Wardle try, and those kicks won the game.
Glasgow had power up the middle through Jonny Gray and Josh Strauss in particular, but by keeping the game so narrow, they never gave themselves the sort of opportunities that were crafted by the Dragons.
Glasgow were unlucky towards the end in a couple of ways. The introduction of Henry Pyrgos at scrum-half meant they started moving the point of attack and Pyrgos saw a gap down the blindside. He ran clear and then chipped over the full-back, only to be brought down. It could have been a penalty try, but a penalty was probably a fair decision.
Jones should have gone to the sinbin without doubt – once deciding it was a penalty offence it had to be a yellow from Italian referee Matteo Liperini.
Then, when Glasgow kicked and chased to the Dragons line, a loose defensive kick gave Glasgow a simple chance to score. Yet all the offside defenders got involved as though the kick had been touched in flight and were llowed to do so.
Once again it should have been a penalty in front of the posts, at least, but instead the Dragons turned over possession and went upfield to score.
“Our players were asking the referee how they got tackled behind the gainline from a sliced kick, but you have to play better than the ref refs – and there will be times you feel you could have got more from the ref and other times you get plenty,” said Townsend.
“Even with them not getting back, it was in our control and then we lost the ball, so we have to improve.”
Scorers: Newport: Tries: O Evans, Hill, Wardle. Cons: Tovey, R Jones (2). Pen: Tovey. Glasgow: Tries: Harley, Matawalu. Cons: Russell (2). Pens: Russell (2), Bennett.
Newport Gwent Dragons: R Jones; M Pewtner, P Leach, A Smith (Capt), W Harries; J Tovey, R Rees; O Evans, T R Thomas, D Bell, A Coombs, C Hill, J Groves, N Cudd, L Evans. Replacements: H Gustafson, P Price for Evans 58, B Douglas for Bell 45, M Screech for Groves 65) I Jones, W Evans, D Jones for Tovey 23, R Wardle for Harries 45-51 and 58.
Glasgow Warriors: R Jackson; L Jones, R Vernon, M Bennett, B McGuigan; F Russell, N Matawalu; J Yanuyanutawa, D Hall, M Cusack, L Nakarawa, J Gray, R Harley, T Holmes, J Strauss (Capt). Replacements: F Brown for Hall 51, G Reid for Yanuyanutawa 45, J Welsh for Cusack 37, T Ryder for Nakarawa 51, K Bryce for Holmes 65, H Pyrgos for McGuigan 59, F Niua for Bennett 65, R Hughes for Matawalu 73.