THE Scarlets always looked like a big banana skin sitting on the RaboDirect sidewalk, the only question was whether Glasgow would adopt the Charlie Chaplin role and take the bait?
The little man couldn’t have done it better himself, although it’s a moot point whether anyone outside of west Wales was laughing much at Glasgow’s pratfall.
The 29-6 defeat in Wales combined with Leinster’s win over Munster last night drops Glasgow into third place with two rounds of fixtures remaining.
So what went wrong in Llanelli? First things first, when tactical substitutions appear after 32 minutes someone has got the original maths horribly wrong. Gordon Reid was replaced by Ryan Grant after half an hour and he didn’t look like he was hurt when he walked off – well, apart from his pride. A raft of substitutes also came on eight minutes into the second half including Glasgow’s game breaker Niko Matawalu. It was too late, the game was already gone.
Did Gregor Townsend underestimate a Scarlets side that needed a win to stay in play-off contention or did he always reckon on being able to lose this one and still grab home advantage? If it was the former, it’s a lesson learned. If it was the latter, it’s a hell of gamble.
“No, that was our strongest team on the night, that was a team picked to win that match,” said a disappointed Townsend, although he did concede that Grant might be the one exception. “It was simply the case that we didn’t turn up, either the international players or anyone else. That was our worst performance of the year.
“The substitution of Gordon Reid after half an hour was no reflection on how he had played, and the same goes for people in the second half like Mark Bennett, who hardly touched the ball. I just felt that we had to do something to shake things up.”
The one exception to Townsend’s blanket condemnation of his players was John Barclay who, at least in the first half, was the most effective forward on the field. He has been linked with a move to Lyon in the summer and on this form Glasgow are going to regret letting him go. As the only specialist number seven left, Chris Fusaro has a heavy burden to shoulder because the returning Richie Vernon is many things but he is not a “fetcher”.
For all Barclay’s efforts, the match was won – and in Glasgow’s case, lost – in the forward exchanges that the Scarlets bossed with far greater ease than any of them can have anticipated. Glasgow couldn’t win the ball and on the odd occasion they did they were pegged so deep inside their own half that they were obliged to kick it downtown. Glasgow have given us warning that their pack can’t quite match the best in the league – Ulster, Leinster and Munster with a following wind – but no one is pretending that the Scarlets’ big men are members of that august group. Yet they were more than a match for Friday’s visitors, who were out-fought in all the physical clashes.
Not for the first time unnecessary penalties compounded the problem. A few weeks back Moray Low conceded two against Leinster in a match Glasgow lost by five points. On Friday night the big prop coughed up three.
Glasgow are simply not good enough to play badly and still win, especially when Ruaridh Jackson was so off key. If this were baseball he’d be straight back to the little leagues on Monday morning. Running on to quick ball against Munster he was focused and accurate: behind a beaten pack on Friday he was plum awful, tugged eight minutes into the second half. He kicked out on the full from open play but failed to make touch from a penalty. He was charged down and he oddly opted not to take a kick at goal from 42 yards out and straight in front of the posts late in the first half.
Had that penalty been converted, and Jackson’s kicking boot is hot right now, Glasgow would have been just one converted try adrift of the Scarlets despite showcasing the very worst of their talents.
The contrast with his opposite number on the night was uncomfortable. Owen Williams, just 21, was almost faultless in both his option taking and his execution, and the Welshman oozed confidence. Oh, and he is off to Leicester next season. Jackson was young once but that is no longer an excuse. If he can justly argue that Williams had go-forward ball to help him shine, Jackson must also concede that stand-offs need the ability to operate effectively off the back foot as well as the front.
Friday’s defeat underlined just how important home advantage is for Glasgow in the play-offs, while also making it less likely that the Warriors will achieve it via a top-two finish. Townsend’s team now have two matches in which to decide whether they want to be comedians or contenders.