If Glasgow Warriors have to miss out on a play-off place they are determined to go down fighting. They needed to call on all their reserves of patience, resolve and skill to see off a gutsy challenge from the reigning champions who were the better side for much of the first half.
Two events in the 65th minute looked to have swung this match one way then the other. With Glasgow defending what looked like a comfortable 27-18 lead, Ali Price made a brilliant tackle on the flying Connacht winger Niyi Adeolokun to save a certain score and Tim Swinson was shown a red card for a swinging arm, which will almost certainly rule the Glasgow lock out of next weekend’s European quarter-final barring a successful appeal.
“I feel that he (the Welsh referee) made a very quick decision without looking at other angles,” said coach Gregor Townsend, who confirmed that the video ref had referred to a swinging arm. “Swinging arms can be part of the game. It looked to me like Tim was trying to punch the ball out because we were struggling to get any purchase on contesting for the ball post-tackle.”
The referee failed to allow a contest at the breakdown?
“Yes,” was Townsend’s blunt reply.
After Swinson’s red card Connacht kicked three from the ensuing penalty to reduce the deficit to six points with 15 minutes still to play and Glasgow down to 14. The visitors went about securing the converted try that would win them this match but instead it was Glasgow who rolled up their sleeves to see this one out. Peter Horne and John Cooney swapped penalties before Sean Lamont secured the bonus point with a try two minutes from time.
Glasgow would have struggled without man-of-the-match Price: the little scrum-half was majestic. He made breaks, he saved at least two sure tries with covering tackles, one in each half of the match, and he scored a cheeky second-half try that gave Glasgow some breathing space. Price even earned a rare turnover at the breakdown late in the first half to help lift the more or less constant Connacht siege.
Connacht opened up the scoring after less then five minutes with Tiernan O’Halloran making the initial line break wide on the right before finding Adeolokun on his right shoulder for the try.
If there is a better team at holding on to the ball and running through the phases then we have yet to witness them in action. Connacht had around 80 per cent of possession in the first half and their fly-half Carty kicked the ball just twice.
The champions back themselves from anywhere on the park because from the second of those kicks Finn Russell grubbered the ball deep inside the Connacht half and safely into touch, or so he imagined. Connacht simply ran through the phases, worked their way upfield, lock Andrew Browne made a line break and skipper John Muldoon scored his team’s second try in the left-hand corner.
In between Connacht’s opening two tries, Glasgow scored a good one themselves, Corey Flynn sent over the line by Brian Alainu’uese, another Glasgow forward who threw his considerable weight around to good effect. In fact anyone in the Glasgow defensive line seemed to have free rein to jump out of the line to hit man and ball.
The brisk scoring continued in the second half. Craig Ronaldson kicking Connacht’s second penalty before Price and Russell combined beautifully for the stand-off to grab Glasgow’s second try, although they owe Matt Smith an assist. The flanker was making his home debut, he carries great expectations and he did not disappoint on yesterday’s showing. It was his twin carries that got Glasgow on the front foot immediately before Russell’s try.
Townsend went to the bench around the 50-minute mark, replacing the entire front row which paid immediate dividends with a penalty at the first scrum. The game was hotting up, as were the players, and an ugly, high tackle by Jack Carty on Peter Horne sparked a rammy under the Connacht posts.
The net result was a yellow card for the Connacht fly-half but Glasgow spurned the easy three and opted for a scrum ten metres from the visitors’ line.
The gamble paid off thanks to the fresh front row and Price’s quick thinking. With the scrum marching forward the little scrum-half picked, dummied and dived over the line to give Glasgow a 27-18 lead which they held going into the final quarter when the drama started in earnest.