THE PROBLEM of being the driving force of Scotland’s rugby revival was exposed in the wind and the rain of Parc y Scarlets as a Glasgow side without their international stars missed the opportunity to go top of the Pro12.
They pushed all the way, but the squad strength of a Scarlets side which had far fewer Wales calls than the Glasgow contribution to Scotland told in the end.
Only two or three of this Glasgow side would likely start if they were full strength, but they have worked hard at building their squad depth and so despite that they were not exposed in West Wales – however it was not enough even for a losing bonus point.
With the Ospreys losing their unbeaten record, going down in Ulster, it meant Glasgow slipped to fourth in the table on a damp and miserable evening.
Glasgow were in touch until the closing minutes as the two sides exchanged penalties, but the Scarlets finished strongly and replacement back rower Rory Pitman flung himself over the line from close range to seal the result, fellow back rower James Davies – brother of Wales centre Jonathan – claiming the man-of-the-match award.
Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend had picked a front row for the future, including 18-year-old Zander Fagerson on the tighthead on the back of his promising debut in Treviso.
He is plainly a massive talent for the future, but playing in the front row at Parc y Scarlets at his age was always going to be a tricky proposition – to say the least – expecially with the rain streaming down and dictating it would be a forward battle.
He was holding his own, but Irish referee David Wilkinson did not like the angles he was using to do that and penalised him at scrum after scrum.
It allowed the Scarlets to build territorial pressure and also offered centre Steven Shingler his first kick at goal.
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Having made a difficult decision in starting with Fagerson, Townsend then had to make another in replacing him before half an hour had passed in the game. The youngster will learn from the experience and has plenty time to return to this level stronger and technically better.
The arrival of Rossouw de Klerk certainly got the scrum working in a straighter manner, but the damage had already been done to some extent with Shingler having landed three penalties by that stage, against just the one for Glasgow outside half Peter Horne.
While Glasgow were replacing Fagerson, another player with strong Scottish pedigree was also leaving the field.
Back rower Johnny Barclay was given the honour of captaining the Scarlets against his former team, but he let flanker Aaron Shingler lead the team out instead of him – maybe a bit like a football goalscorer not celebrating against the club where he made his name.
It was 9-3 to the home team at half-time, so Townsend decided to introduce scrum-half Niko Matawalu, who joined up with the squad late this week after playing for Fiji against Wales in Cardiff last weekend.
Glasgow’s adventure put full-back Peter Murchie clear on the right just after half-time, he was obstructed after kicking towards the goal-line. Wilkinson went to the TMO to check the decision and then correctly awarded a penalty which was put over by Horne. The only surprise was that Scarlets full-back Steffan Evans did not see yellow for the cynical offence.
To make matters worse, he played rather well for the next ten minutes. He took a high ball in front of his posts under extreme pressure and then broke through the Glasgow defence to set up right wing Harry Robinson on a run to the corner. Glasgow got back to prevent the try, but it was a close run thing.
Suddenly the scrum battle had gone full circle and as the Scarlets twisted and turned it was Glasgow who started to earn the penalties. That set up the position for a ruck offence to give Horne the chance to level the scores.
Steven Shingler put the home side back ahead from a similar penalty award, setting up the final Scarlets assault to claim the points and deny Glasgow even a losing bonus.
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