Glasgow win ugly to stay in Champions Cup race

Glasgow Warriors' Alex Dunbar looks for a way through'. Picture: Photographer Ian Cook/CameraSport
Glasgow Warriors' Alex Dunbar looks for a way through'. Picture: Photographer Ian Cook/CameraSport
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Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend breezed into the press room after this vital victory, full of the joys of spring after a miserable clash played in squally mid-winter.

After all, he was carrying a bag labelled swag holding four points so he could afford to joke about whether this was the worst game in Europe this weekend or if that dubious honour fell to the 9-9 draw of fellow Pool 3 hopefuls Northampton and Racing 92.

The fact this game was on at all was a tribute to the design of modern pitches, given the Llanelli weather was measured by the bucket, so the low quality was easy to explain and forgive.

Townsend was not hoping for more of the same when his side face Edinburgh after Christmas, but, still, this was good preparation for that and crucially kept his team’s hopes in Europe alive thanks to nine points from two games against the Scarlets.

While Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac was clearly right when he said afterwards it is hard to look past Dan Carter’s Racing 92 as the eventual winners of this pool, Glasgow are one point behind second-placed Northampton with that postponed trip to Paris in hand.

All of which helped to explain Townsend being so full of the festive spirit with goodwill to all men – well, apart from the French referee Pascal Gauzere, who had sin-binned two of his players in the crucial final quarter.

They have some injury concerns ahead of the Edinburgh clash. Captain Johnny Gray and scrum-half Mike Blair both failed head injury assessments, while man-of-the-match Alex Dunbar went off at the end with a tight 

It was hoped that was a combination of a heavy pitch and lack of match fitness, rather than something more long-term, so, on the whole, Townsend was right to be in such a positive frame of mind ahead of the 1872 Cup meetings with Edinburgh.

“Character would be the number one thing,” he said, when asked about the positives from Llanelli. “I think we struggled early on in the scrum but we got to grips with it.

“I liked the physical courage our players showed to keep ahead and fight through the 12 or 13 minutes when we had players in the bin.

“I thought our lineout was outstanding, with Fraser Brown and with Leone stepping up as a lineout caller after Johnny went off.

“We know that Edinburgh has a strong set piece. We will be playing at Murrayfield in front of 20,000 plus probably. It is our biggest game of the season in terms of emotion and we are playing for 
a trophy.

“We analysed the game against Edinburgh last year and we were flat. At the time it was a wake-up call because I think we may be only lost one of our next ten games or so. It revitalised us and we just have to make sure we don’t have to lose to do that.”

While Glasgow went 9-0 ahead just after half-time through three Finn Russell penalties won by the forwards, the key period was conceding just three points while down to 13 men and with Lee Jones filling in at scrum-half.

Wing Sean Lamont and flanker Simone Favaro went for a deliberate breakdown offence and late tackle respectively. Afterwards, Townsend could again afford to be humorous rather than angry.

“We’ve had practice at playing with 13 in other games, so that helped,” he said. “I thought they were both harsh. With the first one, it looked to me as if the ball was knocked on before Sean played it.

“For the second one, there were two or three like that in the Northampton game where the referee said to play on because the player was committed to the chargedown.”

Glasgow prop Gordon Reid also felt it was perfect preparation for the Edinburgh clash.

“When we went down to 13 we tried to slow the ball down a bit and do the simple things right. Tighter ball, runners off nine, things you do when you are down men,” he said.

“It showed you don’t need to play with flair to win. We like to show a bit of offload, evasion going through the contact, a bit of fancy rugby. We needed a bit of old-fashioned rugby, put it up the jumper and take it through the forwards. It is the Scotland front row in Edinburgh so this was good preparation.”