GLASGOW maintained their 100 per cent record and returned to the top of the RaboDirect Pro12 in Llanelli last night, but their bid to uncover a top-class performance goes on.
Roared on by Glasgow couple Don and Pippa Bradshaw – who out-sung the Scarlets support and arrived fresh from Parma, where they had watched the team beat Zebre – the Warriors soared into a lead after three minutes and were 14-3 up on the half-hour, seemingly in control.
But the Scarlets came back at them after the break, aided by the officials, lost Sean Lamont and Niko Matawalu to yellow cards and were forced into a furious backs-to-the-wall effort to hold on to the four points.
Coach Gregor Townsend said: “The first half was pleasing, full of ambition, and I was pleased too with the defence, but we had a dodgy period for a while in the second half and we needed a great effort to get through it. But they [Scarlets] are a tough side so I am delighted to come away with a win, five from five, before we head into the Heineken Cup.”
After a sunny day in south Wales, the conditions were perfect for this encounter and two teams who, traditionally, favour a running game. There was a good crowd on both sides of the tidy Parc y Scarlets and, with John Barclay in the home line-up and Sean Lamont on the left wing for Glasgow, there was added spice for both sets of supporters as their former players busied themselves to prove old loyalties had been dispensed with.
The Warriors clicked early on. From a scrum on the right side of the Scarlets’ 22, the Warriors built their first attack, Duncan Weir quickly into the game after a six-month injury lay-off with an eagerness to get hands on the ball and dictate play.
And it paid dividends. The home defence was pulled to the right, left and back again, and the benefit of having a scrum-half, Matawalu, on the wing – albeit he was playing on the right and popped up on the left – was clear when he took a quick tap penalty and his forwards piled in in support for prop Ryan Grant to dive over the line.
The Warriors duly won the next scrum against the head on their own 22, and Weir and Matawalu launched another attack from deep, the Fijian blitzing through the midfield. His support was some way behind and ball was ultimately lost, but it was a strong early signal from the visitors.
The Scarlets were given a helping hand by a poor call from Welsh assistant referee Greg Morgan, who signalled to Italian referee Giuseppe Vivarini that Warriors skipper Al Kellock had pulled down Scarlets jumper Joe Snyman in the lineout. Video replays showed that Kellock had actually beaten Snyman to the ball, but the Scarlets exploited the chance with a kick to touch and subsequent penalty, which Rhys Priestland turned into three points with 16 minutes played.
Glasgow came back strongly, but were twice penalised by Vivarini as they hunted a second score, and the scrum came under pressure.
Glasgow’s attack was superior, however, and with centres Mark Bennett and Alex Dunbar making excellent breaks, Rob Harley punching on in the 22, lock Tim Swinson applyied the finish by crashing over the line, Weir converting again from the left on the half-hour.
The scrums remained a problem, Glasgow seeming to drive Scarlets off their own ball, but being penalised. Kellock protested to no avail, and Priestland duly converted from 45 metres.
The Scarlets and Wales stand-off cut the deficit to five points within a minute of the restart – and nudged his personal club tally over 800 points – after Swinson was isolated. Priestland then nearly created a first try for the hosts, his high, hanging ball wide left being lost by Matawalu and Weir, but left wing Jordan Williams and Liam Williams could not get past the Fijian to the line.
With Josh Turnbull, Gareth Maule and Jon Davies providing a strong lead, Scarlets picked up the tempo and were just denied in the right-hand corner. Glasgow’s defensive effort was immense, but costly, as wing Sean Lamont was yellow-carded for his part in halting the Scarlets attack.
Scarlets kicked to touch and drove the lineout, but Glasgow held firm, and the barricades remained well manned across the pitch.
A Glasgow ruck penalty was turned into three more Scarlets points by Jordan Williams, but Weir claimed them back with a fine penalty from the left touchline.
DTH van der Merwe entered the fray, with Matawalu taking over from Cusiter at scrum-half, but Glasgow were struggling to retain ball in the face of a stiffer Scarlets defence, summed up when Lamont made a cracking line-break but was superbly caught by Turnbull, who duly got to his feet and forced a penalty. Weir went for a drop-goal with ten minutes remaining, and a great tackle by Matawalu chopped Turnbull before he could exploit an overlap on the Glasgow 22. But that was the end of the game for the Fijian, who was yellow-carded for stamping at the base of a ruck. It was controversial as the referee seemed to ask for advice from the television match official on whether the ball had gone into touch off a Scarlets player, but the replay showed the ruck incident. Kellock protested, again to no avail, but Jordan Williams was off-target with the resultant penalty, leaving the scoreline 17-12 at the finish.
Glasgow have yet to hit their straps, but they sit top of the league with five wins from five and that is a dream start for a Scottish team.