The last time Glasgow made the Pro12 final, back in 2015, Ali Price had just turned 22 and the youngster was playing third fiddle to Henry Pyrgos and Niko Matawalu. The little scrummy was there in Belfast on the big day as 24th man, so he did the warm-up and everything else that goes into a match day preparation before stepping backwards into the shadows for the match itself…and right back out again for the celebrations.
“Our flight actually didn’t take off that night [after the final],” Price recalls. “We were meant to come home to Glasgow on the night of the final but the pilot had left the light on in the cockpit, so the battery drained in the plane.
“We ended up staying another night in Belfast, which I was a part of. It was brilliant, with the trophy in the middle of the team. We were obviously celebrating and having a few beers. It was a pretty good night, but it actually seems like a long time ago now.”
It was just four years but much has happened in the interim. Pyrgos has moved down the M8 to Edinburgh and although Matawalu subsequently went elsewhere, with brief stints at Exeter and Bath, the little Fijian has returned to Scotstoun and Glasgow for whom he seems to reserve his best. And four years on from Belfast, Price is the undisputed No.1 scum-half at Scotstoun, perhaps for Scotland, despite a difficult season last time out.
He was on fire in Friday’s 50-20 Pro14 semi-final win over Ulster. Price scored Glasgow’s second try with an electric blind-side snipe, aided by DTH van der Merwe’s quick thinking, shrugging off Iain Henderson’s tackle to score. Later in the first half Price caught his opposite number John Cooney napping and instead of tackling the Ulster nine with the ball, which would ensure the visitors kept possession, Price simply pulled his arm off the ball which caused the inevitable knock on and a turnover.
His relationship with stand-off Adam Hastings is growing by the month and it’s not entirely unlikely that the pair could usurp the Laidlaw/Russell pairing as Scotland’s leading half-backs in the course of the upcoming World Cup. Everyone notes that Hastings is one of those players who has time on the ball – that is partly thanks to Price for getting it into his hands in a timely fashion.
You will never get a perfect performance in rugby, a Nadia Comaneci ten from ten, but Friday night was as close as Glasgow are likely to come to it against a competitive Ulster side that was desperate to give skipper Rory Best one last hurrah, not that Price is willing to admit as much.
“Ulster are a good side, and if I’m honest, everyone was a bit nervous about how Friday night was going to go,” said the No.9. “We were playing at home, where we’re obviously expected to do the job, but we knew they were going to be better than they were a month ago when we played them here.
“They were better in the quarter-final against Connacht, they managed to slow their ball down very effectively. If they’d managed to do that to us, I think it could have been very different. I certainly didn’t see the scoreline being like that.
“The pleasing thing for us is that I think we played better last month against Leinster and Edinburgh. I think we were more clinical. I still think we left chances out there, where, come a tighter game next week, we might need to take them.
“We’ve got three days’ training before the final and we’ve still got to work on things. But we’ve given ourselves a shot, which is brilliant.”
One specific area that Glasgow need to improve is their defence, which, with the match already in the bag, gave up the ghost, allowing Ulster three consolation scores.
But Price is very specific about what it will take to win Saturday’s final against Leinster at Celtic Park. Much of Glasgow’s high-tempo game relies upon quick ruck ball and they were not getting it in the middle of the first half according to the man who should know.
“The [Ulster] tackler wasn’t necessarily rolling away,” he insists, “but, then again, we weren’t being brutal enough in trying to move them. Those are some areas we can improve.”
The contrast with last season, when Glasgow limped into the semi-final on the back of three losses in four outings, could not be any starker. The Warriors attack has been unstoppable of late, scoring 31 tries in the last six league matches, at an average of five per match.
It will be interesting to see how hard Leinster compete at the breakdown next Saturday because, given front foot ball, halting the Glasgow backs is like stopping the tide. The home side have generated a healthy head of steam and Celtic Park hosting the final offers Glasgow another timely boost.
“I’ve been and watched a couple of games, but obviously I haven’t ever got anywhere near the pitch before,” says Price on Celtic’s house of dreams. “I watched a European qualifier a few years ago and also a cup game. This was a few years ago now and there wasn’t a full-house.
“I would like to think now that we’ve made the final, supporters of Scottish rugby will come and back us next weekend. We sell out at Scotstoun every week, basically, and people always say there’s such a demand for tickets. I would like to see Celtic Park close to full capacity. That would be pretty special.”