Glasgow Warriors build momentum in Pro12 defeat of Cardiff
The starter to the mouth-watering three-course meal which opens Glasgow Warriors' 2017 proved a satisfying if unspectacular appetiser as Cardiff Blues were comfortably despatched at a sold-out Scotstoun on Saturday night.
A bonus point, return to the top four and no apparent injuries of major concern were more than enough for coach Gregor Townsend to reflect with pleasure ahead of the biggest fortnight in the club’s history.
Thoughts swiftly turned to Saturday’s titanic showdown with Munster and the most meaningful 80 minutes since they faced the same opposition in 2015’s successful Guinness Pro12 final – although, in the context of making that long-awaited breakthrough into the knockout stages of elite European competition, it could be argued that this weekend’s Scotstoun blockbuster is even more monumental than that famous evening in Belfast.
Munster’s impressive if not unsurprising rout of a Racing 92 side who had already been fatally speared by Glasgow’s brilliance has the Irishmen firmly in the Pool 1 box seat, but Townsend is confident that his side can collect the points necessary against them and then Leicester away to secure that historic quarter-final berth.
But, first, he was keen to bask in the contentment of a job well done against a Cardiff side who had targeted this as a “must-win” match to salvage their wobbling season and what appeared to be a clean bill of health.
“Simone Favaro rolled his ankle before the game and was a real doubt,” said the coach. “But he said he was fine. His ankle is a bit swollen now.
“Ryan Wilson got a dead leg. With Adam on the bench, it was an opportunity for him to get some game time. We think they will both [Favaro and Wilson] be fine.”
Full-back Peter Murchie, in for the rested Stuart Hogg, contributed two tries – “one-metre wonders” was his modest appraisal of his finishing touches to good work by the forwards – with the other scores coming from Pat MacArthur and his young hooker replacement James Malcolm.
Despite his brace Murchie had no complaints with the man of the match award going to wing Tommy Seymour, who may have had a rare night away from the scoresheet but lit up the match with some majestic line running which sliced the Welsh open on a number of occasions.
It should have been even more comfortable for Glasgow against opposition they clearly had a number on from the off and utterly dominated territory and possession in a first 40 minutes played out in mild but rainswept conditions.
And yet the half-time lead was only 10-7 and Cardiff, probably to their own disbelief, drew level with a penalty early in the second period.
In-demand Finn Russell was the man in the limelight after a week of speculation about his future. Townsend was quick to slap down any notion of him going anywhere and the stand-off has said he is “relaxed” about the situation.
“I’ve got another year-and-a-half on my contract at Glasgow, so it’s not really an issue for me,” he said in a Sunday newspaper interview. “It’s all talk just now, all good fun.”
When Russell’s risky kick inside his own 22 was deflected by a Cardiff hand and resulted in Blaine Scully getting the Blues back to within three points before the interval there was a tongue-in-cheek cry of “sell him” from one wag in the main stand, but the stand-off recovered from that blip to deliver another composed playmaking display.
Sub wing Rhun Williams got a late consolation score which flattered Cardiff as the Glasgow fans drifted out of the stadium counting the minutes until they return for Saturday’s main course.
“We know that if we win our last two games we are likely to go through,” said Townsend, who is acutely aware from past experience that the brutally unforgiving nature of the Champions Cup means a last-eight spot has to be fought for tooth and nail.
“We might not go through in first place and that’s a challenge,” he said. “Munster are in a strong position even if they lose to us. They will want to come here and win. They have Racing at home in their last game and given today’s result [Munster’s 32-7 win in Paris] you can expect that to be a win for them.
“The destiny is in our own hands. With two wins we might not top the group but should go through. But we have to play two very tough teams – one at home and one away.”
Townsend and his coaching staff had tuned into the match from Paris which took place earlier in the day but were soon aware that any hopes Racing might do the Warriors a favour were forlorn. “We watched about the first 50 minutes. Then we switched off,” he said with a rueful grin.
“Obviously it was quite a one-sided game, but Munster played well and will be full of confidence coming here next week.
“It was one of those games where we were guessing which lineout they would use We’ve watched them a lot over the last week. There were a couple of new things, but it was the DNA of a Munster performance – physical around the forwards, good defence, territory-based rugby.
“They have a traditional South African way of playing. A territory game with a lot of lineout drives and kicking. They try to squeeze mistakes out of the opposition and they have a very good defence and a good kick-chase for competition for the ball in the air.
“With the weather tonight there was more kicking from both teams, and that was good practice for next week.”