BEFORE yesterday evening’s match against the Scarlets, Glasgow had not lost a league fixture at Scotstoun since November 2013.
They have now; finishing second to the Welsh region, which maybe wasn’t a surprise after losing 16 players to Scotland’s World Cup squad.
What was surprising was the circumstances of the defeat. Scarlets finished with just 11 players on the field, thanks to three yellow cards and a head knock, but Glasgow couldn’t make their numerical advantage tell, knocking on with the line at their mercy at the death.
Al Kellock duly unfurled the 2014/15 Champions flag in the middle of the pitch before yesterday’s kick off but, with just two survivors from the Pro 12 final, yesterday’s starting XV bore almost no resemblance to the team that won in Belfast and nor did their performance.
They were comprehensively outplayed in the first half but much improved after the break when they threatened a famous fightback that ran out of time as much as anything.
The Scarlets scored their first try after four minutes when flanker Aaron Shingler went over from short range, going over the challenge of Chris Fusaro and Kevin Bryce. They scored their second and last on 20 minutes and relied on penalties thereafter. If flyhalf Dan Jones had done better with the boot, he managed just two from five on the night, the score board would have been even uglier for the home fans.
Glasgow did not help themselves with injuries and ill-discipline interrupting their performance. Pat MacArthur dropped out the team before kick-off and winger Rory Hughes followed suite shortly after. Then the new recruit Grayson Hart was shown a yellow card on 26 minutes for a very obvious tip tackle.
As well as being out-fought across the 80, Glasgow were out-thought as well. Setting up one driving maul from a lineout, the Scarlet defenders stood off before running around the fringes to tackle the man at the back who had the ball; all perfectly legal. When Glasgow finally had some pressure at the end of the first 40 the Scarlets turned them over by getting hands on the ball in the maul.
Neither of the big beasts in the Glasgow backrow, Adam Ashe and Josh Strauss, were able to respond in the opening half although both were far busier in the second 40 when Glasgow finally won some possession and, crucially, kept hold of it. Throughout this game the home side struggled to come to terms with the Scarlets’ line speed as the visitors ruthlessly closed down time and space, especially in the midfield.
On the positive side of the ledger had they not given the Scarlets a 13-point start, Glasgow’s second half performance might well have earned them the win. The 18-year-old lock Scott Cummings showed up well at the sidelines where he won just about every Glasgow throw. Fraser Lyle ran hard in the midfield and made one early try-saving tackle on the runaway Scarlets’ fullback Steffan Evans who stepped in and then out of too many tackles which proved the main problem for the home side all night.
Glasgow missed too many tackles against a side that is not noted for their physicality. It cost them territory all evening and when Regan King split the Glasgow defence far too easily on the 20-minutes mark, it cost them the second try with the former All Blacks sending his skipper Hadleigh Parkes over for a simple score in the right hand corner.
Trailing by 13-0 at half-time Glasgow finally opened their account five minutes after the re-start. Scott Wight kicked a penalty to touch and several plays later when Mike Cusack squeezed his sizeable frame over in the corner even if the score had to be confirmed by the TMO.
That score brought Glasgow to life and the hosts were far more direct after the break, looking to the forwards to do some damage, but just when it looked like Gregor Townend’s team might work their way into contention Jones finally found his range with a long penalty.
Townsend changed his halfbacks, Rory Clegg and Mike Blair both making their league bow in Glasgow colours, and Peter Murchie returned to fullback with Robbie Ferguson taking his spot at outside centre and Glen Bryce on the wing.
The new-look side pressed hard in the final quarter and eventually an endless series of five metres scrums resulted in a yellow cards for Scarlets’ prop Rob Evans and flanker James Davies and Glen Bryce finally plucked a kick out of the air for Glasgow’s second try which at least secured a late bonus point.
John Barclay then saw yellow for Scarlets in the dying minutes, reducing the Welsh side to 11 men, but Warriors failed to take advantage.
Scorers. Glasgow: Tries: Cusack, G Bryce. Scarlets: Tries: Shingler, Parkes. Pens: Jones (2).
Glasgow: G Bryce; Jones, Murchie (capt), Lyle, Hughes (Ferguson 10); Wight (Clegg 55), Hart (Blair 55); Yanuyanutawa (Allan 50), K Bryce (Scott 57), Cusack (Fagerson 60), Harley, Cummings (Low 69), Strauss, Fusaro (Holmes 55), Ashe.
Scarlets: N Evans; Parkes (capt), King, Owen, Tagicakibau; Jones, Davies (Williams 65); John, Phillips (Myhill 70), Edwards (Taylor 65), Price (Earle 51), Rawlins, Shingler (Pitman 65), Davies, Barclay.
Referee: Gary Conway (IRFU). Attendance: 6,562.