AFTER back-to-back reversals in Europe and that loss of the 1872 Cup, Glasgow needed a victory last night to steady the listing ship so the Scarlets were the perfect opposition, having failed to secure a win away from home all season.
The Warriors duly triumphed thanks to one first-half try playing into the elements and another two after the break with the gale at their backs. They top the Guinness Pro 12, at least until tomorrow when the Ospreys play.
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The elements inevitably took their toll on proceedings. The Scarlets kicked off, Glasgow retrieved the ball and almost spilled it when attempting to run out of defence.
It wasn’t for the want of trying – these two teams both look to play as much rugby as possible – but both sides struggled to hold on to the ball long enough to make it tell, although things improved in the second half as the weather did.
Given the wet and windy conditions, this match was always going to be decided by the forwards and Glasgow had an edge at scrum, lineout and at the breakdown, aided by the fact that the Scarlets were missing several key players. Glasgow won turnovers at the sidelines and bossed the scrums whichever props were on the field.
It was Mike Cusack’s first game at Scotstoun since November 2012 and, while he only lasted one half, he did enough in the tight exchanges to suggest that Gregor Townsend will be grateful to have him back. Josh Strauss was immense and Niko Matawalu also impressed, full of energy and invention. Needless to say, it was not a day for the kickers to set any new records, except perhaps for the margin by which they missed the posts. The first four kicks at goal all flew wide of the uprights, two of them by the width of a tennis court.
Playing against his old team, John Barclay was on an mission to antagonise his erstwhile colleagues and he did a pretty good job too, eliciting a swing and a miss from Tim Swinson early on that would, at the very least, have earned the second-row a ten-minute rest had it landed.
Still, his interception set up Liam Williams’ score at the death of the first half and he made a host of tackles, if only because the visitors spent much of this match on the back foot.
Little wonder that it took the thick end of half an hour for the first score of the match and, when it did arrive, it went to Glasgow.
A typical Matawalu dart set up field position for Strauss to charge over the line. He probably scored but the TMO couldn’t see it and couldn’t award it. No matter, a few plays later, Glasgow tired of banging their head on the yellow brick wall and instead shipped the ball wide to Sean Lamont on the right wing, who sucked two defenders on to him and still managed to get one arm free to give Alex Dunbar a simple run in.
Dunbar’s next contribution was a little less distinguished as he got stiff-armed by Williams when the full-back took advantage of Barclay’s interception to run in from 35 metres.
Rhys Priestland’s conversion gave the Scarlets a half-time lead of two points but they were now playing into a 20-point wind.
The second half was just four minutes old when full-back Peter Murchie proved the point. Ryan Grant and Struass got Glasgow on to the front foot and Glasgow spread the ball to the left. Leone Nakarawa’s pass was behind him but Murchie still had time to stop, collect the ball and pirouette his way over in the corner. As if to underline the sea change, Russell’s touchline conversion sailed between the posts.
The second half was less than action packed, with much of the play taking place in the middle of the park and neither side able to impose their will.
Russell eventually ended the stalemate with a 66th-minute penalty and DTH van der Merwe scored Glasgow’s third try after Fraser Brown won the turnover by tackling the scrum-half with the ball and Matawalu gave a sweet little reverse pass to open the gate, which was more than anyone expected in these conditions.
Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend was delighted. He said: “That was very good. The first 38 minutes was the best we have played since Bath. We had to play into the wind and rain and the guys were brilliant.
“When you get three tries, the bonus point is obviously something you consider, but I though we’d be lucky to see any tries in that weather, so for us to get three tries, we were very pleased.”
Scorers: Glasgow – Tries: Dunbar, Ritchie, Van der Merwe. Cons: Russell (2). Pen: Russell. Scarlets – Try: L Williams. Con: Priestland.
Glasgow: Murchie; Seymour, Dunbar, Horne (Downey 74), Lamont (DTH van der Merwe 49); Russell, Matawalu (Price 70); Yanuyanutawa (Grant 40), MacArthur (Brown 58), Cusack (Murray 40), Swinson, Gray (Eddie 58), Nakarawa (Gray 67), Wilson (Bordill 66), Strauss (capt).
Scarlets: L Williams (J Williams 47); Parkes, King (S Shingler 77), S Williams (capt), Tagicakibau; Priestland, A Davies (G Davies 57); Evans, Elias(Myhill 54), Adriaanse (Edwards 54), Ball, Snyman, A Shingler, Barclay, McCusker (Rawlins 57).
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