LANGUISHING fifth in the Guinness Pro12 table in the aftermath of a damaging loss to the Scarlets the pressure, on a wan sun-lit afternoon at Scotstoun, was very much on Glasgow to produce a performance of bristling physical resolve and mental resilience against a Dragons’ side, who perhaps maybe out of sorts this term but needed only to reflect on last season to take succour from previous success in the far West End of Glasgow.
Glasgow 19-15 NG Dragons
Scorers: Glasgow: Tries: Penalty. Cons: Weir. Pens: Weir 4. Newport Gwent D’gons: Pens: R. Jones 5.
Ultimately while the home side’s commitment and effort were never in doubt, and were the key components in this gritty but uninspiring 19-15 victory, the alarming lack of fluidity and cohesion in their play, with the previously lethal Warriors’ back-line left largely unemployed for huge swathes of this encounter, was a worrying and unforeseen blemish on this hard-fought victory.
Yet with a trip to Toulouse in a momentous European Rugby Champions Cup tie just six days away, Glasgow head coach Gregor Townsend will take encouragement from a success that may have been won ugly but, in returning his side to the play-off placings, could yet prove hugely valuable.
That said, the opening encounters were decidedly dull by contrast to the normal high-octane offerings produced by Glasgow and with only five minutes gone Dragons’ full-back Geraint Rhys Jones demonstrated impressive accuracy with a penalty wide on the Glasgow right flank, after Chris Fusaro had been found guilty of coming in from the side.
Almost immediately Duncan Weir returned the compliment after a Welsh infringement to level the scores at 3-3 after six minutes.
Yet while Glasgow appeared to have the edge in the scrum the Dragons signalled an early intent to take the game to their hosts with a full bloodied foray in the heart of the Warriors 22 that was defended less than robustly.
After 16 minutes the men from Rodney Parade repeated this bruising up-close and personal tactic, through an alarmingly soft Glasgow centre, and were rewarded with a penalty after referee Dudley Phillips adjudged an offside transgression by Glasgow, despite the suspicion of a forward pass during the Welsh build-up.
Nonetheless Jones stroked his kick between the uprights to restore the visitors’ three-point advantage.
Worryingly with scrum-half Niko Matawalu out of sorts the unfolding Glasgow performance gave the Scotstoun horde almost nothing to get involved with.
Starved of meaningful possession the first quarter came and went with Glasgow pinioned in their own half and displaying little menace against a side they had scored four tries against just two months earlier.
Timeously a cute Duncan Weir chip resulted in an offside infringement from the Dragons, Weir himself was once again on the mark with a fine kick from just inside enemy territory as parity was restored.
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As the half-hour mark arrived a further Warriors’ infringement was once again punished by the boot of the lethal Jones while a Sean Lamont knock-on after Glasgow had finally managed to run the ball through their hands, just about summed up the lack of fluidity in the home side’s disappointing efforts.
Indeed the only real bright spot of a turgid first half was the developing set-piece dominance of the Glasgow pack that was arguably the reason why the home side remained within touching distance of Kingsley Jones’ side.
On the stroke of half-time a yellow card to Dragons No 9 Richie Rees hinted at promise to come after the interval but although Glasgow hammered away at close range an obdurate Welsh defensive effort repulsed the home attack and the first period ended in frustration for the Scotstoun side.
Moments after the resumption Matawalu’s lightning break saw the Fijian just fail to gain downward pressure over the line but the resulting five-metre scrum saw a colossal effort by the home pack that yielded a penalty try and Weir converted neatly to put Glasgow in front, for the first time, 13-9, five minutes into the second-half.
Yet when Phillips adjudged an offside for Glasgow runners’ false start ahead of a Weir kick, Jones, who needed no encouragement, was given an easy riposte that closed the gap to a single point, just when Glasgow should have been building aggressive momentum.
With Weir’s promptings starting to yield improved field position and a semblance of quick-ball manufactured, at last Glasgow developed enough pressure to prize a penalty out of the miserly Dragons defence and Weir kicked the resulting kick unerringly.
Weir repeated the feat in 65 minutes to take Glasgow 19-12 clear with the momentum, as well as territory, now, at last, with Gregor Townsend’s team.
Yet once again Glasgow afforded the gritty visitors a way back when Pat MacArthur was adjudged to have gone over the top and Geraint Rhys Jones took the three points.
But Townsend’s men stuck grimly to their defensive task to hold on to a victory that will send them to France, boosted by the return of their Scotland contingent and also by the knowledge they have developed an ability to win when far from at their best.
Glasgow: Murchie, Jones, Lamont (Vernon, 62), Horne, Van der Merwe (Braid, 73), Weir, Matawalu (Pyrgos, 55), Grant (Reid, 55) Brown (MacAthur, 55) Welsh (Fagerson, 80), Swinson (Strauss, 55) Kellock, Nakarawa, Fusaro (Bordill, 74), Wilson.
Newport Gwent Dragons: Jones, GR, Prydie, Wardle, Smith, Pewtner (Amos, 73), Tovey, Rees (yellow card 39) Evans, J (66), Harris (Price, 61), Dee, Way (Fairbrother, 70), Hill, Landman (Coombs, 19), Thomas, J, Cudd (Benjamin, 66), Evans.
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