You would expect Glasgow to get the better of a sub-strength Harlequins and so they did, in an excellent temporary stadium on Perth’s North Inch which could yet last longer than Paul Gustard’s stewardship of the visitors if they carry on in this vein. Gustard’s last job was England defensive guru under Eddie Jones but his side leaked eight tries in 80 minutes to a Glasgow team missing most of their first choice starters.
In the first half Dave Rennie fielded a pack of bairns and, after an uncomfortable start, even the youngsters managed to take a lead into the half-time sheds thanks to tries from Paddy Kelly, Rory Hughes and Matt Smith, the flanker doing a stint at No 8.
After the break, when Rennie called upon the likes of Alex Dunbar, Adam Hastings, Greg Peterson and Niko Matawalu, the game was hopelessly one-sided as Glasgow carved the visitors open almost at will, adding another five tries to their tally.
Alex Allan scored under the posts following a barelling run by hooker Kevin Bryce who showed up well after moving back from Edinburgh and moving back to hooker. The new signing, Australian scrum-half Nick Frisby, intercepted a Danny Care pass for the easiest try he will ever claim, only to then pass the ball to visiting fly-half Smith to score for Quins moments later.
It was no more than a temporary hiccup as normal service was quickly resumed. Adam Ashe scored a try from short range that was wrongly credited to Bryce by the stadium announcer, before Matawalu added the icing onto the Warriors cake with a brace of scores, created by others but brilliantly finished from long range by the Warriors’ answer to the Duracell Bunny.
The little Fijian might have had his hat-trick but he selflessly passed the ball to scrum-half Kaleem Barreto who was quickly swamped by defenders. Matawalu still walked away with the man of the match award and he looked like he was enjoying himself in the sunshine.
“Everyone enjoyed the game,” said the crowd favourite after the match. “[We’ve been] back five weeks for pre-season preparations and for 20 minutes it was a pretty tough game. Then there was lots going on, everyone expressing themselves and playing the sort of rugby that Dave [Rennie] is asking for, so everyone was enjoying themselves.”
Matawalu first made his mark under Gregor Townsend as a livewire scrum-half but Rennie has used him sparingly and almost exclusively on the wing where he has his moments. He sparked one extraordinary score last season after running a ball from his own try line against Leinster and only passing, unnecessarily, to Nick Grigg 15 metres from the opposition line. So where does he prefer to play?
“For now I will accept any position that I can play,” replies Matawalu. “I just want to enjoy the rugby. For me, I just prefer both [scrum-half and wing]. That’s what rugby players do, prefer both. Anything could happen, whether you play wing or nine. You know all the systems.
“That the thing about rugby, if you love rugby you can play anywhere. If you enjoy rugby, it’s exciting, you can just jump into any position I guess.”
When he was asked about whether Matawalu might get another run at nine, Rennie said: “He’s a bit of a free spirit, I’m not convinced that he’d run to structure if we put him at nine too often. He was great against Quins. Not just the couple of flashy tries that he scored, he gave us a lot of go forward and worked hard off the ball.”
Rennie has a point. Come one kick off Matawalu chased hard and caught the Harlequins receiver just as he caught the ball. It was the sort of selfless hard work that often goes unseen. But then there is the good fortune that seems to follow Matawalu around the field. At the end of the game Quins dominated the final ten minutes and when the ball reached the giant blindside flanker Stan South on the far side of the field he only had the the Warriors winger to beat. Instead he dropped the ball and Glasgow finished on a defensive high.