Good Friday turned out to be a good Friday for Glasgow Warriors fans in Scotstoun who witnessed their team take another large step towards the play-offs with their fifth league win on the trot.
Ulster raced into an early lead and kept hold of it until the one hour mark when two superb solo tries by Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour turned this game on its head. Four penalties from the boot of Finn Russell saw Glasgow home.
The win was brave but a little fortuitous. Glasgow will bemoan their own lack of precision at the breakdown, their porous defence and Irish referee John Lacey whose performance made a good case, not for neutral referees, just for better ones.
The home team got off to the worst possible start with a series of defensive errors, each new one compounding the previous mistake. Ulster broke the line with their first possession. Josh Strauss showed how not to tackle and suddenly Ulster were camped on the Glasgow line and Hogg, the hero of the Six Nations, was yellow carded for plucking the ball from Ruan Pienaar’s grasp with the line begging. The stadium clock read 1:42.
By the time he reappeared ten minutes later Ulster were 7-0 to the good after a simple inside ball from full-back Stuart Olding sent Iain Henderson over for the opening score.
The flanker ran through the gap that should have been filled by Alex Dunbar but the Scotland centre was being held off the ball by Luke Marshall, which seems to be widely accepted, and Lacey waved away any protests.
Glasgow’s defence looked shaky, especially in the first half as the bulky presence of Marshall and McCloskey had a field day, barrelling past would-be tacklers like they weren’t there. When Ulster weren’t running through Glasgow they were giving them a masterclass at the breakdown, all elbows, knees and attitude or holding them up in a “choke” tackle.
Ulster pushed their luck, and the laws, but Lacey was in forgiving mood. He ignored all sorts of malarky, such as coming in offside and “swimming” round the side of the breakdown before hacking the ball out.
After conceding early points Glasgow hitched up their breeks and went to work, mixing some direct running with their more traditional offloading game to good effect, setting up camp inside the Ulster red zone for long stretches.
Finn Russell’s clever grubber in behind the Ulster defence just beat Seymour to touch before the stand-off himself made not one but two brilliant breaks that Glasgow couldn’t quite finish off. Leone Nakarawa was all arms as usual but Strauss needed another pair of eyes when the No 8 ignored a glaring overlap on the wide right and instead carried himself.
Ulster’s defence held firm but the net result of all the pressure was three penalties, on 23, 28 minutes and 39 minutes to Russell only for Paddy Jackson to get one back which made it a one-point match 9-10 at the break.
The home team were then caught with their trousers down shortly after the restart. Glasgow were penalised at the breakdown and Ruan Pienaar’s kick rolled into touch five metres from the home try line. Winger Craig Gilroy raced up, grabbed the ball and threw it to a charging McCloskey long before any lineout had time to form, for the centre to score the easiest try of his life.
The crowd was incensed, chanting “cheat, cheat, cheat,” but this was one of the few calls Lacey got right, unless the ball failed to travel the requisite five metres...
That was when twin moments of magic from Glasgow’s back three dragged the Warriors back into this match. Hogg started the fightback with a chip-and-chase try up the left touchline, only awarded after a nod from the TMO, and he was followed over the Ulster try line by Tommy Seymour just three minutes later after the winger latched onto Russell’s cross kick at full pelt and scored a scorching try from the halfway line.
Russell kicked his fourth penalty eight minutes from time before Hogg – who else? – did Ulster out of a bonus point with the last kick of the match, a penalty from his own half.