GLASGOW Warriors gained some revenge for the humiliation of Scotland by Wales at the Millennium Stadium last weekend with a controlled and incisive winning display against a tough Scarlets team.
The Warriors’ play-off hopes are very much alive now, especially as they face Ospreys on Friday night at Scotstoun. Win that encounter and Glasgow would have a very good chance of making the play-offs.
Both teams saw their complement of international players returning after Six Nations duty, and the Scots definitely had the biggest point to prove. Duncan Weir started the match well, his kicking particularly adroit both from hand and tee in a first half in which he and team captain for the night, Chris Cusiter, and scrum-half turned left-winger Niko Matawalu were the dominant forces.
Coach Gregor Townsend confirmed afterwards that Weir suffered a broken nose in the early exchanges but played on. “What a brave effort,” said Townsend, “because he was still tackling Jonathan Davies into the second half. I thought he played really well and showed the confidence he has gained from playing in the Six Nations.”
Matawalu’s break after seven minutes saw Scarlets penalised in front of their own goal and Weir coolly slotted the ball between the posts for the opening three points.
Another Matawalu break sent Richie Vernon away but the Scarlets got back in numbers to clear the danger. They were under pressure, though, and it was no surprise when they went offside just outside their own 22 and Weir made no mistake to put Glasgow 6-0 up.
The Warriors were in charge but unable to capitalise, and five minutes later Scarlets forced their way to well inside the home 22 where they won a five-metre scrum. Referee Alain Rolland allowed one collapse, but on the second occasion he judged that Glasgow had taken it down and awarded the penalty to Scarlets. The visitors took the three points on offer rather than go for the try, with Olly Barkley kicking.
Glasgow went straight back into attack and another piece of Welsh indiscipline and a long penalty kick to touch by Weir put the Warriors into a strong attacking position.
From the lineout, Chris Fusaro dived for the line, and the referee consulted the TMO who ruled that the ball had been held up. The subsequent five-metre scrum was rock solid and coming off the wing Matawulu ran a superb – one might almost say Townsendesque – angle to cut through the Scarlets defence and score. Weir’s conversion attempt was wide, but Warriors were eight points ahead at 11-3 and worthy of that lead.
Warriors were also showing great enterprise, getting over the gain line most times and opting for a lineout from a penalty just before half time. Scarlets were nothing if not resolute in defence – and somehow they kept the home advantage to eight points at half time. Courtesy of good interlinking play between backs and forwards, with Matawalu always in the van and the back row especially giving their opponents a tough time, Glasgow kept up the pressure and more Welsh indiscipline in the face of constant attacks saw Weir stretch the lead to 14-3 with a penalty.
Scarlets knew they needed the next score to stop Glasgow running away with it and they gained enough territory to draw Warriors offside, Barkley kicking the penalty from in front of the posts.
Weir’s previously peerless kicking game imploded as he sent a kick from hand straight into touch, understandable given his injury. Townsend sent on Ruaridh Jackson as part of a triple switch which saw Mark Bennett and Leone Nakarawa replace Alex Dunbar and Chris Fusaro respectively.
Jackson’s first attempt at a penalty from almost on halfway went just wide after 57 minutes, and then Townsend made his second triple switch, sending on Fraser Brown for Doug Hall, Moray Low for Jon Welsh, with the biggest cheer of the evening for club captain Al Kellock on his return from injury to replace Tim Swinson. Sean Maitland came on at the death for Vernon.
The fresh blood re-energised Glasgow and they launched a prolonged and disciplined assault on the Scarlets defence. To their credit the Welsh side did not crack, even after 18 or 19 phases of punishing, rumbustious drives by Glasgow that ended with a knock-on and a scrum to Scarlets.
Glasgow should have had the game won by then, but the Welshmen had chances to come back into the match as the weather deteriorated. The Glasgow defence was somewhat better than Scotland’s last weekend, however, and they held on for a deserved if uncomfortable win.