GLASGOW full-back Sean Maitland admitted that the shock of seeing their team-mate Mark Bennett stretchered off the field had a major effect on their side’s 29-9 defeat to Ulster on Saturday.
Ulster 29-9 Glasgow
Scorers: Ulster – Tries: Gilroy, Bowe. Cons: Humphreys (2). Pens: Humphreys (5). Glasgow – Pens: Russell (3).
Following an Achilles problem in pre-season, Maitland took his seasonal bow in the physical encounter at Kingspan Stadium and reckons Glasgow were well in the battle before their centre lost consciousness following a choke tackle.
Ian Humphreys had given Ulster a commanding half-time lead with five penalties, while Finn Russell kept Glasgow in touch with three of his own. But Craig Gilroy and Tommy Bowe dotted down in a three-minute period shortly after the incident with Bennett as Glasgow were made to pay for some uncharacteristic sloppy missed tackles and handling errors in the closing stages.
“When you see the stretcher coming on for one of the boys it is tough and you do feel for him, but he’s all good. He just got choked out in a wrestling move. The good thing is he’s okay and he’s up and walking around and got a smile on his face, which is the main thing,” Maitland said after he logged an 80-minute return to Gregor Townsend’s side.
“That was sort of the turning point, really. We had the ball and then Gilroy scored a good try and we slipped off a few tackles.
“But that was a turning point and momentum shifted and it all went downhill from there.”
As well as the Achilles problem, Maitland has missed some game time due to a dead leg sustained recently, but the New Zealand-born Lions squad member said he was relieved to get some quality game time logged ahead of the upcoming European campaign.
“Yeah, it was good to get back in amongst the boys. It’s been a long five or six weeks of frustration and injuries. But yeah, we are disappointed to come away with a loss here.
“Our defence was good for 60 minutes and we can take a lot of positives out of that. Our attack shape probably needs a bit of work.
“Simple basic errors [in attack] that let us down, in the last four or five weeks has been serving us well. But, we just have to forget this and focus on a big couple of weeks,” said Maitland.
Glasgow Warriors coach Gregor Townsend was a little dismayed to see his side’s five-game winning run come to an end, but he took huge encouragement from the game ahead of next Saturday’s European Champions Cup opener against Bath at Scotstoun.
The physical nature of the game in Belfast will have his side on their toes for next weekend’s tussle, despite having to recover from a number of knocks, he said.
“It’s the perfect preparation. I know from my experience playing and coaching, when you play a team like the All Blacks or South Africa, you become a much better team for the week after because of the learning you get in that game, the intensity of the game. Your levels of expectation go up for the next week.
“I’m pretty confident that our players will be turning up at training on Monday wanting to put their hands up and be selected.
“They are used to it, we are a physical side, Ulster are a physical side. I’m sure there are sore bodies but that’s the life of a pro rugby player,” said Townsend.
Bennett was not the only casualty from the abrasive tussle as Sean Lamont will undergo the required six-day concussion protocol after taking a first-half blow to the head, while Peter Murchie was pulled from the team before kick-off because of illness.
Prior to Saturday’s tussle, Ulster had only lost once, a surprise away defeat to Zebre, and their victory now sees them trail Glasgow by just a point in the standings. In a battle of two excellent defences, it was no surprise that the game was a largely tight, penalty-kicking affair and Townsend admitted they found it nigh on impossible to break through the white barrier.
“Today they were very solid there, we just struggled to get that speed of ball that we needed to find gaps, although a couple of times, if we had got those offloads to hand, we might have got through,” he said.
“I think it’s a focus. We knew tonight and our next two games we were playing against top sides in Europe and we need to play our best to win, especially a team like Ulster, who were on form tonight.”
Townsend added: “So we’ll have to have the same mindset going into next week only we have to be better.
“Bath are one of the form teams in Europe and there are areas from tonight that we know we have to work on.”
Ulster: Ludik; Trimble, Payne, McCloskey, Bowe; Humphreys, P Marshall; Warwick, Best, Herbst, A O’Connor, van der Merwe, Diack, Henry, Williams. Subs: Olding for Ludik (71), Gilroy for Trimble (36), Black for Warwick (59), B Ross for Herbst (21), Wilson for Williams (53). Not Used: Herring, Stevenson, Heaney.
Glasgow: Maitland; Seymour, Bennett, Horne, Lamont; Russell, Pyrgos; Reid, Brown, Murray, Swinson, Nakarawa, Harley, Fusaro, Strauss. Subs: Matawalu for Bennett (61), Downey for Horne (56), Yanuyanutawa for Reid (66), Hall for Brown (53), Gray for Swinson (50), Ashe for Fusaro (72). Not Used: Fagerson.