Iain Morrison: Russell unable to salvage Warriors season

It was a bad night for Scottish rugby all round. Not only did Glasgow lose the semi-final, and with it their unbeaten home record in the Pro14 this season, but they lost Zander Fagerson to a first-half injury'¨and Scotland captain John Barclay also limped off the pitch with a painful looking ankle injury which the warm cheers of the Scotstoun crowd will have done little to alleviate.

Finn Russell finds his path blocked by the Scarlets defence. Picture: SNS/SRU.
Finn Russell finds his path blocked by the Scarlets defence. Picture: SNS/SRU.

Glasgow didn’t just lose this match, they were so far off the scorching pace set by the Scarlets that the normally lively Scotstoun crowd was stunned into a stony silence in the early exchanges and had little reason to shout about despite two late tries with the match already gone.

Dave Rennie always said that his side would win nothing unless Finn Russell was on song. The stand-off made a decent fist of his farewell match although Racing 92 might be wondering if they have the right man because Rhys Patchell was the best ten on view.

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The Scarlets stand-off scored two tries when these sides last met and he gave a masterclass here, scoring the first try, creating the second and kicking beautifully both from hand and off the tee.

Glasgow gave their own masterclass in how not to start a game of rugby. Skipper Ryan Wilson conceded a penalty at the kick-off and a few plays later Scarlets knocked on into touch. Glasgow could have opted for the lineout but went for the scrum where the front row conceded another penalty.

Patchell dinked the ball into the corner and when his forwards won the lineout the Scarlets stand-off ran around Nick Grigg like the little centre had put down roots to claim the first try.

A little later the same man stepped inside Russell’s tackle and one pass to scrum-half Gareth Davies was enough to slice open a Glasgow defence that looked horribly vulnerable all evening.

Grigg earned himself a clean break, a try and a yellow card in a busy second half. Following the card the Scarlets’ big men drove Glasgow back over their own try line for the fourth and decisive try.

You have to wonder what Alex Dunbar has done to be so far out of Rennie’s reckoning that he didn’t make the match day 23. After the first quarter the penalty count was something like 5-1 and not in Glasgow’s favour. Referee John Lacey made several wrong calls but not nearly enough to influence the final result. Scarlets’ attack was incisive but their defence was arguably even more impressive.

Their line speed took Glasgow by surprise. Russell was forced into a chip kick from his own 22 that just turned possession over cheaply and he was not the only culprit. Glasgow lacked the patience/experience just to hold on to the ball and run through the phases because every time they kicked it away Scarlets made them pay.

When the Warriors did hold on to the ball they were all too often smashed backwards in the contact zone underlining once again, as if we needed it, the golden rule of rugby; if one team can bully the other, they will.

Russell is leaving for pastures new but until and unless Glasgow’s forwards can stand toe-to-toe with the heavyweights of the Pro14 it doesn’t really matter who pulls the strings at ten.