GLASGOW served up the perfect antidote to the Six Nations hangover that all Scottish rugby fans are suffering right now. The Warriors played some superlative attacking rugby in the opening half only to test their fans’ patience after the break. They conceded an early second-half try to a charge down and, when Niko Matawalu went to the bin on 51 minutes, they conceded another two quick-fire tries in the space of four minutes. Cian Healy will have been left grinning all over the other side of his face.
The Irish prop came off the Leinster bench and had an immediate impact at the set piece where he had Mike Cusack in all sorts of bother. Then he did what all good Irish players do and held Matawalu’s shirt after a tackle when the play had moved on. He will have considered the glancing elbow in the face he got as a pittance to pay in exchange for a turnover of possession and 80-odd metres of territorial gain. Ireland’s are not the only players to do this but they are the worst (or best?) at it and, unless referees stamp out all the off-the-ball nonsense, the game will descend into the sort of farce that plagues football.
Three points is better than we have done here for some time
In defence of the referee, Nigel Owens, he gave Matawalu a firm lecture on not milking penalties early in the game. Hallelujah! But the referee only has one pair of eyes and he wasn’t going to get much help from his assistants, whose interventions (Matawalu’s yellow apart) were comically ill-judged.
In the first half, Stuart Hogg kicked a penalty to the corner and the Irish touch judge, David Watkinson, ruled he had kicked it dead. Not so. Owens checked “upstairs” and the ball crossed the touch line a good two metres inside the corner flag.
Early in the second half, the same man asked Owens to check on “a punch” by Glasgow skipper Al Kellock. He did. It wasn’t a punch. It wasn’t even a slap. It might, under intense forensic examination, have been classed as a “flap”. Such was the delicate nature of the blow Kellock laid on Mick McCarthy (who had barrelled into the ruck leading with his shoulder) that even the one-eyed Leinster crowd responded to the video footage on the big screen with laughter.
“I was delighted to get a draw,” said Townsend after the game, “although if you’d asked me at half-time I wouldn’t have been so happy. To get a draw and score four tries, we showed some real character.
“We didn’t set a target for points from these last five matches. We just said that we wanted to be very competitive in every game. It’s a tough run in because we have the champions [Leinster] away from home, we have Cardiff at home, Connacht away, Ospreys away and then Ulster at home.
“Three points is better than we have done here [in Dublin] for the last few years but it was frustrating after the way we played in the first half when we scored 27 points. But we can be proud of the way we played.”
Despite those 27 points, Towns-end bemoaned a couple of missed opportunities, including a five-metre lineout when Fraser Brown overcooked his throw and a midfield move that was blown up for a rather obvious obstruction.
But there were also individual performances of real class, especially from Peter Horne, who put Six Nations disappointment behind him and ran the show superbly for long stretches. His kicking from the tee was faultless, especially with that late touchline conversion, his kicking from hand the same, especially in that first half.
Richie Vernon, a late call up for Finn Russell, scored one and set up another try for Stuart Hogg before being injured shortly after the break. Brown did another notable stint on the flank as Glasgow’s depleted bench ran out of bodies. Josh Strauss carried magnificently. The injury that saw Hogg leave the field is not expected to keep him out of action for long.
Sadly, it was a forgettable evening for young tighthead prop Zander Fagerson, if only because he may not remember anything about the match. The poor man took a blow to the head when he made to tackle South African Zane Kirchner and he was carted off the field after just eight minutes. George North suffered the same fate on Friday night when Northampton beat Wasps and the Welsh winger has now chalked up three (obvious) concussions in the past eight weeks.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS