This was always going to be a tight, nervy affair with a home semi-final at stake and so it proved, at least for the first hour Ignore the final score, this one was undecided until the final quarter.
Glasgow eventually came through, backing up last weekend’s victory at Thomond Park, thanks to their famed scramble defence which somehow kept the try line intact when Ulster threatened in the second and third quarters of the match.
The TMO also played his part, disallowing an Ulster score in the second half before giving the thumbs up to one from Mark Bennett just minutes later that made the match safe.
Glasgow were still trailing by six points a minute before the break but tries either side of half time and a penalty from the boot of Finn Russell, saw the home team to score seventeen unanswered points and take a handy lead that they never relinquished.
Russell rose to the challenge magnificently in what was only his second professional start at flyhalf. He had a hand in Glasgow’s first try and he added twelve points from the boot while displaying his customary composure. He is fast playing himself onto the North American tour this summer.
Jonny Gray was immense in defence and Tommy Seymour not only scored one try, he stopped one as well, jumping out of the line to catch Tommy Bowe with the ball. Mark Bennett also showed his attacking skills, tearing oipen the Ulster defence more than once and grabbing his side’s third touchdown.
Glasgow dominate much of the first quarter but got scant reward for all their efforts, three points from the boot of Finn Russell. Ulster had looked lively enough in the opening exchanges but the visitors simply couldn’t keep hold of the ball. No sooner had the visitors run through a couple of phases than someone would spill the pill or throw a forward pass.
Things inevitably improved and after a difficult first twenty Ulster began to string the phases together. Paddy Jackson went to the air and his back three regained possession more often than not. After one such steal fullback Ricky Andrew made a sublime break up the middle of the park and only some desperate scrambling prevented the first try.
Instead Ulster made do with the first of three quick-fire penalties from Jackson that gave the visitors a 9-3 lead. It was no more than they deserved and the flyhalf was off-target with two other attempts or Ulster might have built a decent lead. Glasgow also lost Ryan Wilson to the sin bin for ten minutes although the damage was limited to the threepoints from the original offence.
Glasgow boast the meanest defence in the whole league but it was stretched to breaking point in the first half even of Jonny Gray did knock the man mountain that is Nick Williams backwards five metres in one textbook tackle. Ulster lock Ian Henderson stops for nothing short of a tranquillizer dart.
As the half drew to a close Glasgow responded with their best attack when Bennett split the line and charged fifty yards up-field. His pass found Peter Horne who juggled and collected but couldn’t fend his way past the last defender.
Ulster won the put in at the ensuing scrum but Glasgow stole it back and a few plays later Russell’s beautifully delayed pass connected to Sean Maitland’s canny angle to sent the winger under the sticks for the opening try on the stroke of half time. Russell’s conversion gave Glasgow a slightly fortuitous 10-9 lead at the break.
Glasgow got the second half off to a blistering start with Russell adding his second penalty and Ulster flanker Sean Doyle following Wilson into the bin. With the one-man advantage Glasgow chose to put a couple of penalties into the corner and the tactic paid dividends at the second attempt with Tommy Seymour, of all people, the last man off the ground after Glasgow bull-dozed their way over the line.
Ulster thought they had got the try back on the sixty minute mark through the giant Williams from a driven lineout only for the TMO to wipe it off. Another lineout, another drive, only this time Glasgow’s defence held firm and the eventual turnover was greeted by the raucous crowd as if it were the final whistle.
The TMO was soon back in business only this time he ruled in favour of Bennett who has made a break and stretched out his arm to reach the Ulster line if only just. Glasgow went in search of their fourth, bonus point try and, while it never materialised, Glasgow will be well pleased with the result and the performance.
Glasgow: Murchie, Maitland (Vernon 75 mins), Bennett, Horne (Jackson 75 mins), Seymour (Matawalu 64 mins); Russell, Cusiter; Reid (Grant 49 mins), Hall (MacArthur 58 mins), Welsh (Cross 58 mins), Swinson, Gray (Nakarawa 58 mins), Strauss, Fusaro (Harley 63 mins), Wilson
Ulster: Andrew, Bowe, Cave, L Marshall, Trimble; Jackson, P Marshall; Court, Herring (Annett 67 mins), Lutton (Fitzpatrick 20 mins, Warwick 62 mins)), Muller (Stevenson 67 mins), Henderson, Henry, Doyle (McComish 67 mins), Williams.