BOTH teams, Galwegians and Glaswegians alike, arrived at Scotstoun with a perfect three-from-three record. Something had to give and the action was a lot closer than the final score suggests.
In the event, Glasgow scored two first-half tries, with the wind, and added another three into the teeth of the gale to emerge with both the points and plaudits. It was a personal triumph for Stuart Hogg whose two-try contribution will go some way towards burying the ghost of last season’s forgettable campaign.
With four wins in succession this season, Glasgow now sit proudly on top of the Guinness Pro12, at least until the result of this evening’s match between Munster and the Ospreys.
There was a time when you wouldn’t cross the road to watch a game between these two clubs but times change and these two put on quite a show of running rugby with a total of eight tries between them.
Glasgow still play a little too fast and loose at times but their big problems last night were in defence, or rather the lack of it. Matt Taylor will want to know exactly how Connacht broke from deep in the first half with such ease and scored three tries on the night. The set scrum was a titanic battle, especially between Euan Murray and Denis Buckley, with the Irishman giving as good as he got and considerably more in one early scrum in which the Glasgow eight engaged reverse gear.
Murray improved markedly after that embarrassment but late in the game, following the usual slew of replacements, Connacht enjoyed the whip hand again and earned a penalty try in the final quarter of the match.
The same wind that caused so many problems at Gleneagles was whistling straight down the pitch and Glasgow got first use of it. Duncan Weir kicked one first-half clearance from his own 22-metre line and the ball ran dead behind the Connacht posts.
Connacht are obdurate in defence so Glasgow had to reach deep into their bag of tricks to unlock the visitors. Forwards were looking for off-loads out of contact and players were running inside lines from all corners of the field in an effort to break the first line.
In the end it was prop Gordon Reid who broke right through the middle of a breakdown to take Glasgow within five yards of the Connacht line.
Four penalties and three scrums later, with Al Kellock politely enquiring about the possibility of a card for the miscreants, Hogg opened the scoring with a simple try on the blindside, DTH van der Merwe unmarked and unneeded outside him.
This Connacht team has more then stonewall defence in their armoury and Glasgow had already been sliced in two by a scything run by stand-off Jack Carty before the men in green got on the scoreboard thanks to a lucky bounce. In only their second attack Glasgow failed to deal with a tricky grubber kick. Instead, Connacht winger Matt Healy gave the ball a speculative hack and it ricocheted off a Glasgow player and fell into the arms of Dave McSharry who accepted the gift of a precious try against the elements. Weir kicked a penalty and Glasgow enjoyed a little luck just before the half-time break when Henry Pyrgos showed his poacher’s instincts to charge down a kick by fullback Darragh Leader and stretch Glasgow’s lead.
Just as playing with 14 concentrated the Glasgow minds last weekend, so playing into the wind brought out the best of their handling game last night and the second half was just six minutes old when Hogg scored his second try, the best on the night by far. The full-back floated a pass to James Downey lurking on the right wing who offloaded to the looping Mark Bennett. He was tackled by two green shirts, but the centre grew another arm and somehow got the inside pass away to his full-back for the score.
Connacht were down but far from out. They worked their way into Glasgow’s red zone and after umpteen attacks through the middle of the home defence had failed to breach the dam, a lofted pass to Leader standing on the right wing did the job as the fullback squeezed over in the corner. Porter’s second conversion narrowed the advantage to just eight points as the match moved into the final quarter but Van der Merwe scored a try from a set scrum that came straight from the training paddock, picking a brilliant line and racing through the defence untouched.
Connacht’s set scrum earned a penalty try but Weir countered with his second penalty before Bennett snatched an interception try to add some icing to the final score.
“We were really pleased with the tempo we got on the game, right from the beginning,” said Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend after the match.