After enjoying a comfortable win over English opponents a week earlier, Glasgow were comprehensively outmuscled by Northampton last night, and could easily have lost by a bigger margin.
Under the cosh after an early spell in which two of their players were sinbinned, the Warriors were spirited in attack at times, but a disappointing evening was made worse when Sam Johnson had to be carried off in the second half after being knocked out.
Coach Dave Rennie had made a dozen changes from the side that beat Harlequins six days earlier, with Johnson being the only back to begin both games but moving from 13 to 12, and Darcy Rae and Scott Cummings keeping their places at tighthead and lock respectively. There were still significant absentees such as Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray, but this line-up was nonetheless markedly closer to a full-strength team.
Northampton’s starting 15 were not exactly short of firepower either, especially in the pack, where Ben Franks was at tighthead, Courtney Lawes at lock and James Haskell at blindside. Dan Biggar began at 10 – though lasted no more than a couple of minutes before a knock saw him taken off as a precaution – while former Edinburgh back Piers Francis began at inside centre, and hooker Dylan Hartley had to wait as patiently as possible before coming off the bench for his first game since England’s Six Nations loss to Ireland five months ago.
Northampton went ahead early on through a Haskell try in the left corner, and even if the scoring pass looked suspiciously forward, they deserved the lead after some heavy early pressure which had begun when Lawes punched through a hole in midfield with worrying ease. The Warriors soon got up to speed, though, but just as they were beginning to exert some pressure of their own, George Horne was sinbinned for talking out of turn to the referee.
The 14 men soon became 13 when Ruaridh Jackson also saw yellow for a deliberate knock-on only metres from his own goal line. The Warriors suffered double jeopardy, too, as match official Christophe Ridley awarded a penalty try.
Tommy Seymour, pictured, opened the visitors’ account midway through the half after being put through by Niko Matawalu, but Adam Hastings was wide with the conversion attempt.
Even when Horne and Jackson returned, the Warriors defence continued to look out of sorts, and it was no surprise when Northampton stretched their lead through a lineout drive finished off by hooker James Fish. Matawalu replied with his team’s second, even if it did not look like he had grounded properly. A 17-10 deficit would have been more than acceptable for Glasgow at the break, but Cobus Reinach stretched the Saints’ lead back to a dozen points in the last minute of the half. Tom Collins did the initial damage, and when possession was in danger of being lost, Luther Burrell got it back in a guddle on the ground before supplying the scoring pass to the scrum-half.
There were substantial alterations to both teams at the start of the second half, but the pattern of play remained the same, with the Saints continuing to dominate and Glasgow doing all they could to stay in the contest. Right-winger Ken Pisi got Northampton’s fifth try of the night only minutes into the half after a slick passing move culminated in a superb offload by full-back Ahsee Tuala.
Reinach got his second try to make it 32-10, James Grayson added the two points, and that took much of the remaining sting out of the match. The contest was further becalmed by a lengthy hold-up for treatment to Johnson, who appeared to have taken a head knock after tackling Harry Mallinder.
A powerful run by DTH van der Merwe took the Canadian international past several would-be tacklers before touching down, and although the conversion was again missed, it was a heartening sign of character in adversity by Glasgow.
That was as good as it got for the visitors, however, and Grayson had the last word with a try which he converted himself to take his team past the 40-point mark.