How Glasgow Warriors secured two precious points against Bulls and why they changed entire front row after 30 minutes

Duncan Weir keeps his cool at Loftus Versfeld

Glasgow Warriors scaled new heights on the Highveld and, although they didn’t win, they secured two precious bonus points which could be crucial in the race for top spot in the United Rugby Championship.

Given the conditions, 22C plus 1300 metres above sea level, and the strength of the opposition, this was a valiant performance from the visitors who have been undertaking breathing exercises in preparation for playing at altitude in South Africa. They started brightly but fell away badly and looked dead on their feet at the midway point of the second half as they trailed the Bulls 37-10 in the Pretoria heat. But Franco Smith’s side found fresh reserves of strength and three tries in eight minutes brought them to within six points of the hosts.

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It was a remarkable effort but they had to dig deep again as the Bulls extended their lead to nine points when Chris Smith landed a penalty from halfway. They did so, launching one last attack which yielded a penalty which replacement stand-off Duncan Weir calmly dispatched in time added on to make the final score 40-34 for the Bulls. So while the hosts picked up the maximum five points it also turned into a more than decent afternoon’s work for Scots who secured not only a four-try bonus point but another one for finishing within seven points of their opponents. They are guaranteed to end the weekend top of the pile.

“The plan was obviously not to fall behind as we did in the first half," said Smith, the Glasgow coach. “We always knew we had a plan to manage the second part of the game, so I’m most proud of the fact that we were 24-10 down at half-time and came back and produced the performance we did in the second half.

“We were challenged mentally and physically today. The character of the team was tested and I think we passed that test . I’m absolutely gutted that we lost the game because I think we were good enough to have won but there are a lot of positives and lessons learned which we will take into the next part of the season.”

The coach changed his entire front row after 30 minutes, removing Jamie Bhatti, Grant Stewart and Murphy Walker and replacing them with Nathan McBeth, Johnny Matthews and Zander Fagerson. Smith said it was pre-planned. “There’s not a rule that says you must play your bench second, so we just played the bench first," he said. “I think everybody who looked at the team would realise that was part of our strategy.

“Our whole front row are coming back from injury. I always knew that the second part of the game was going to be important, so the strategy was to get these boys out there, play their hearts out for that period, and I thought they did well and it allowed our second group ten minutes on the field then a break at half-time.”

Matt Fagerson scores the opening try for Glasgow Warriors against the Vodacom Bulls in the BKT United Rugby Championship at Loftus Versfeld.  (Photo: Steve Haag Sports/INPHO/Shutterstock)Matt Fagerson scores the opening try for Glasgow Warriors against the Vodacom Bulls in the BKT United Rugby Championship at Loftus Versfeld.  (Photo: Steve Haag Sports/INPHO/Shutterstock)
Matt Fagerson scores the opening try for Glasgow Warriors against the Vodacom Bulls in the BKT United Rugby Championship at Loftus Versfeld. (Photo: Steve Haag Sports/INPHO/Shutterstock)

Glasgow had scored first but then gradually unravelled and you feared the worst for the visitors. But this is a Glasgow team that prides itself on its fitness and the late tries from Kyle Steyn, Sebastian Cancelliere and Weir meant they didn’t leave Loftus Versfeld empty-handed.

The game’s opening try came down to a lovely piece of lineout ingenuity from Glasgow but that was as good as it got for the visitors in the first half. With the Bulls expecting the usual driving maul, Stewart threw it short to Matt Fagerson at the front and the flanker barrelled past Canan Moodie to score. George Horne’s conversion made it 7-0 after seven minutes but the momentum swung back to the Bulls when Steyn was shown a yellow card after 14 minutes.

The Glasgow captain was guilty of an attempted tip tackle on Akker van der Merwe. It was unnecessary from Steyn and proved costly, with Glasgow conceding two tries while he was in the sin-bin. The first came almost immediately and was poetic justice for van der Merwe. Duhan’s older brother had an easy finish after good work by Ruan Vermaak off a lineout. The Bulls turned up the power and Cameron Hanekom got try No 2, stepping inside to score. Chris Smith converted both and the Bulls had turned a 0-7 deficit into a 14-7 lead while Steyn was on the sidelines.

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Horne landed a penalty to keep the Warriors in touch but the home side bagged their third try just before half-time, through Elrigh Louw after a searing break by Kurt-Lee Arendse. The home fans sitting in the Pretoria sunshine didn’t have long to wait for the bonus-point score, Moodie finishing off a slick backs move five minutes into the second half.

It looked like it might be damage limitation by this point for Glasgow as Chris Smith landed another couple of penalties for the Bulls to stretch their lead to 37-10 with a quarter of the match still to play but, against all odds, Glasgow scored three tries in eight minutes.

Steyn got the first of them - his fourth in three games - taking a long looping pass from Jordan before dotting down in the corner. Jordan converted and was replaced by Weir soon after. Four minutes later Cancelliere ran in an interception score from halfway and suddenly Glasgow were back in the match. Weir converted and, with nine minutes left, scored Glasgow’s fourth try after good work by Cancelliere and Jamie Dobie. The seasoned stand-off added the extras then held his nerve in injury time to cancel out Chris Smith’s late penalty with one of his own to ensure Glasgow finished with two bonus points.



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