The last time Glasgow travelled to Bloemfontein they shaved a fortuitous win over the hosts by a slender three-point margin. On Saturday evening they thumped the hapless Cheetahs by seven tries to four. It would be nice to imagine that Dave Rennie’s side had improved by 25 points in the intervening year but it seems a little more likely that the 13 or so frontline players who exited the Cheetahs over the summer have seriously undermined the South African team’s ability to compete.
The home team made a decent fist of things for one half, leading by three tries to two and five points at the break, only to unravel in spectacular fashion in the second 40, scoring one more try themselves but conceding five to Glasgow who filled their boots.
After Adam Hastings and Ali Price gave Glasgow a dream start, both halfbacks touching down early on, the Cheetahs fought back with three tries of their own, the best of them a length of the field effort that resulted in a crossfield kick sitting up perfectly for fullback Malcolm Jaer.
The Cheetahs were 19-14 ahead at the break but that was as good as it got for the home team who collapsed like a castle of playing cards after Jaer was yellow-carded on 41 minutes.
Glasgow scored three tries and 21 points while he was off the field, through Tommy Seymour, Ali Price (again) and DTH van der Merwe, the Canadian international playing his first professional game of rugby in the land of his birth.
“It has always been a dream of mine to play in South Africa professionally,” said the club’s record try scorer, right, now in his second stint with the Warriors. “I came here with Canada once on a sevens trip to George but I was injured and didn’t get to play, which was very disappointing.
“But to get down here to play was a massive honour for me. My uncle, my mum’s brother, was in the stand with his family so it was great to have someone there that I haven’t seen in ten plus years.
“Now I am looking forward to a week down in Cape Town (before playing the Southern Kings next Saturday) where I still have family and a few of my friends.”
What will please the coaches is the fact that Glasgow rallied in the second half when the altitude might have taken its toll as it appeared to do last season. Instead Glasgow’s conditioning, or the Cheetahs’ lack of it, seemed to tell as the match progressed.
“We wanted to see what altitude would do to us,” said Van der Merwe who grew up in the Western Cape. “There was a lot of talk during the week about playing at altitude and how tired the boys were last year. We started off really well with a try straight off the bat when everyone was fresh, but they scored a couple of tries and everyone thought, ‘Is this the altitude having an effect?’.
“We went through the processes that we do back home as well – taking a few breaths, just calm the nerves and think about our role. Then getting a good game plan and sticking to it. Once we did that we scored good tries. The Cheetahs are a different team at home and they’ve got some really dangerous players, so hats off to them as well for the tries that they scored out wide.”
Van der Merwe revealed that the Glasgow squad had watched the All Blacks lose to the Springboks over breakfast on Saturday morning with the majority of them supporting the underdogs. They may have been inspired by the jaw-dropping performance of the national team but the Cheetahs were unable to replicate it for more than the first 40 minutes.
Jaer scored his second try of the match when the fullback returned from the sin bin but Glasgow were far from finished.
With the usual slew of substitutes on the field further tries came from Callum Gibbins, at the second attempt after the TMO wiped off one earlier effort because of obstruction.
The final word went to reserve scrum-half George Horne, who replaced Van der Merwe on the left wing for the final ten minutes. He rounded off the scoring with a try five minutes from time.
After his man-of-the-match display against Munster, Adam Hastings took over kicking duties from Peter Horne and was eight from eight in front of the sticks. He eventually provided 22 of Glasgow’s tally.
Rennie’s team are now top of conference A and the only team in the Pro14 with three from three.