Down to 14 men following Rob Harley’s sin-binning, Glasgow’s 20-year-old second-row Scott Cummings, pictured inset, scored two tries to give the Scots hope of some bonus-point solace with six minutes remaining. But instead Jacob Stockdale ran in Ulster’s fifth try as Glasgow’s all-out attack failed to convert at the death.
It was in a sloppy first half that Warriors will feel the game got away from them. Despite having 62 per cent possession before the interval, playing into a strong wind derailed the 2015 Pro12 champions as Tommy Bowe and Sean Reidy ran in home tries.
Brandon Thomson did reply just before the break, but Ulster’s bright start to the second half sealed victory. Townsend saw Ulster’s fourth try as a real turning point as the home side dispossessed the Edinburgh-bound Mark Bennett deep in their own 22, and staged a pitch-long counter that was finished off by the brilliant Ruan Pienaar.
“I think Ulster played really well and punished each slip that we had. Whether it was in possession or defensively, they capitalised on it,” said Townsend. “When we made that really good break into their 22, they scored at the other end. I’m not saying it’s a 14-point turnaround... but we didn’t make the most of that possession.
“But I was proud of the way we came back and scored two tries when we were at 14 men. Maybe just at the end trying to get those two bonus points, we pushed it a little bit too much with the offloads, but Ulster had won the game by then.”
With 16 of his squad sequestered to Scotland duty in recent weeks there was always going to be a natural fall off in standards as the extent of the Warriors squad was tested.
Last week’s shock defeat by Scarlets at Scotstoun was a big blow to Warriors’ title hopes, while Saturday’s loss to another title challenger is another setback that has left Townsend’s side sitting in sixth place.
Next Sunday’s trip to Swansea to face the Ospreys – who themselves tasted defeat at home for the first time this season against Munster – is one of the toughest trips on the calendar, but Townsend is confident in his young side, despite some fresh injury worries around Lee Jones, Richie Vernon and Rory Hughes.
“I felt we were better than we were last week, there was still a couple of errors there but there was a lot of good play,” said the Warriors coach.
“When you see the quality and players coming back at the right time for Ulster, [Marcell] Coetzee and Pienaar, they are both very good and both of them played 80 minutes. It’s a credit to them.
“We know Ulster are a really good side, they play very good attacking rugby. Defensively they were very organised, they were hard to breakdown close to the try-line especially.
“But no, we have got some young players, and players that haven’t played as much at this level that are standing out well at this level.
“Nick [Grigg], Scott Cummings is 20 years old and scored two tries. Jamie Bhatti came off the bench and played really well.
“Also we have players coming back from injury. Peter Horne had 80 minutes in his first game for three or four months.
“It was a shame we picked up a few injuries, but so did Ulster. I think it was a physical game and both teams had to defend well and attack well. And Ulster were better than us on the day.”