GLASGOW secured a place in the Guinness Pro12 final last night with a heart-stopping win over Ulster.
Glasgow - 16
Ulster - 14
Referee: G Clancy (IRFU)
A try by record tryscorer DTH van der Merwe with five minutes left on the clock, backed up by a sensational touchline conversion by man of the match Finn Russell, sealed Gregor Townsend’s men a second successive final appearance in impossibly dramatic style.
Glasgow had to play second fiddle for long periods but their patience and refusal to be denied a place in next Saturday evening’s showpiece at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast was ultimately rewarded. They will now face the winners of this afternoon’s Munster-Ospreys clash and hope to win a historic first title for a Scottish side.
With 10,000 packed into an expectant and up-for-it Scotstoun it was a mystery why it was felt music had to be blared out to “create” an atmosphere in the build-up to kick-off and the plug had barely been pulled on the synthetic racket when Ulster were awarded the first penalty after a home infringement from the kick-off.
Ruan Pienaar, one of the host of big names restored to the Ulster line-up following last Saturday’s 32-10 reverse at the same venue, made no mistake with the routine chance. But Glasgow’s response was immediate as they won possession from the restart and forced a penalty of their own, Russell doing the necessary from 25 yards to level things up at 3-3 before anybody had barely drawn breath.
In the 13th minute the home side got another penalty chance just inside their own half on the left and the longer range of full-back Stuart Hogg was summoned. His meaty strike with the wind at his back looked good from the moment it left his right boot and Glasgow were ahead.
However, in terms of ball-in-hand possession it was Ulster who had looked the more threatening from the start and, after being bundled into touch in the right corner in one assault, they conjured the first try of the evening with their next – working an overlap on the left and putting flanker Chris Henry in at the corner to the delight of the sizeable Irish contingent in the crowd.
Pienaar couldn’t add the extras but there was more bad news for Glasgow as skipper Al Kellock departed hurt with a head knock and was replaced by Leone Nakarawa. Hooker Fraser Brown suffered a similar fate in a bruising few minutes for the Warriors and Pat MacArthur came into the front row.
It was soon confirmed that Kellock’s absence was permanent and Scotstoun had seen the last of its inspirational skipper in a Glasgow jersey. Left to deliver in his absence, it was becoming increasingly apparent that this was going to be a daunting task for Kellock’s troops against potent and highly-motivated opponents who were forcing the hosts to feed on scraps.
After 35 minutes, Glasgow were able to put their first fluid phase of back play together and, after a penalty when Niko Matawalu was taken out without the ball seeking a Russell kick, they opted for the lineout. But it was stolen by Ulster and the momentum was drained.
Just to reinforce their ascendancy, the visitors then won a scrum against the head and a furious spell of pressure ensued as Glasgow hung on for dear life and managed to get to the break just two points in arrears.
Ryan Wilson replaced Chris Fusaro at the break and it was imperative that Glasgow could set their stall out early on and stem the flow of Ulster confidence you sensed was building.
For all the tension that comes with a semi-final, the game loosened into a rather frenetic opening to the second period as the nervous energy crackled in both teams. Glasgow were bursting to spark something to assert some kind of authority on the game, while Ulster looked for the try that would suggest they could build on last Saturday’s first-half dominance and, this time, drive it home.
The visitors settled for a penalty, which Pienaar slotted to open up a five-point lead, and as the sun set over the west stand, Glasgow were facing the prospect that dusk was descending on a season that had promised so much.
They got some go forward and Russell gobbled up an easy penalty to bring it back to a two-point game, but looseness continued to plague the home side’s play and they found themselves pinned in their own half.
A massive penalty by Pienaar from just a few feet in front of where Hogg had converted in the first half nudged the Ulstermen three more ahead heading into the last ten minutes.
It was becoming difficult to see how Glasgow could get themselves out of the hole but a penalty with seven minutes left, kicked to the corner by Russell sparked an electric few minutes of attacking by the Scots which culminated in a masterful long pass by Russell, which Van der Merwe gleefully pouched to dive in at the right-hand corner and spark delirium in the Scotstoun stands.
Russell couldn’t celebrate his pivotal role in the score for long as there was the small matter of the decisive conversion wide out on the right. With magnificent composure he stood and delivered the knock-out blow.
There was a late heart flurry when Hogg’s failure with a last penalty gave Ulster a chance to run from deep, but it came to nothing and the celebrations could begin.
Scorers: Glasgow: Try: Van der Merwe; Con: Russell; Pens: Russell (2), Hogg. Ulster: Try: Henry. Pens: Pienaar (3).
Glasgow: S Hogg; T Seymour, R Vernon, P Horne, N Matawalu; F Russell, H Pyrgos; R Grant, F Brown, R De Klerk, J Gray, A Kellock (capt), J Strauss, C Fusaro, A Ashe. Subs: P MacArthur, G Reid, M Cusack, L Nakarawa, R Wilson, D Weir, S Lamont, DTH van der Merwe.
Ulster: L Ludik; T Bowe, J Payne, D Cave, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; C Black, R Best (capt), R Lutton, L Stevenson, D Tuohy, I Henderson, C Henry, R Wilson. Subs: R Herring, A Warwick, B Ross, R Diack, S Reidy, P Marshall, S McCloskey, M Allen.