Glasgow 23-24 Harlequins
Scorers: Glasgow Warriors – Tries: Matawalu (2), van der Merwe. Con: Weir. Pen: Weir (2). Harlequins: Tries: Marler, Sinckler, Lindsay-Hague, Yarde, Cons: Evans (2).
Indeed, van der Merwe’s rampaging left-wing substitute appearance represented his first appearance in a Glasgow shirt since 26 December, when a shoulder injury sidelined him for the final five months of last season – and perhaps the outstanding contribution for the Scotstoun side in the opening game of their truncated two-game pre-season build-up.
Thus Van der Merwe, whose intercept try looked to have handed Glasgow a delightful revenge, was sanguine about the scoreline and palpably upbeat about the fistful of positives his side produced.
“I injured my shoulder in the gym and had surgery back on 7 February. Although I got game time with Canada in the summer, it is great to have that first run-out with Glasgow under my belt,” admitted van der Merwe.
He continued: “With the try, I could see there was a chance of the interception and that, if I didn’t take it, Marland Yarde was going to score.”
Van der Merwe was bullish with his assessment of the quality of the foundation this meeting with Harlequins has provided. The 28 year-old said: “We must take a lot of confidence from the Harlequins game. They started with their first team and we didn’t field our strongest side by any means.
“Although we were frustrated with the first half, not making the most of the wind, after the interval we showed that we can play with the ball in hand against one of the best teams in Europe.”
While Glasgow’s work around the breakdown and their defensive line speed may have lacked in ferocity, there were indeed plenty of reasons to be cheerful for head coach Gregor Townsend.
Despite fielding a starting XV from which there were only three survivors from last season’s PRO12 final (Gray, Strauss, Murchie), Glasgow largely held their own against a side packed full of England internationals.
With two Duncan Weir kicks taking Glasgow into the break trailing 6-7, largely due to a Joe Marler drive over, the home side had done well to stay in touch despite referee Neil Paterson repeatedly ignoring Quins’ repeated fending for the ball off their feet.
With the second half just two minutes old, a wayward Warriors’ line-out almost on their own whitewash allowed Quins’ prop Kyle Sinckler to pilfer and touchdown.
But Townsend’s men remained undaunted and, with the raft of changes that transformed Glasgow into a much more identifiable battle-hardened proposition, the Scotstoun side significantly upped the ante.
Right-wing Lee Jones produced a number of eye-catching runs, new props Alex Allan and Rossouw de Klerk showed plenty of athleticism in the carry, and back-row Josh Strauss revelled in the extra responsibility of the captaincy.
Niko Matawalu was on hand to profit from a barnstorming James Eddie run for Glasgow’s opening try. The scrum-half repeated the trick off the back of a similar van der Merwe contribution before the Canadian’s 90 metre Chariots of Fire cameo appeared to hand Warriors an unassailable 23-14 lead.
But poor concentration and a lack of defensive intensity undermined the home side in the final stages and Ollie Lindsay-Hague and Yarde profited to hand victory to the men from the Stoop.
Glasgow: Murchie; Jones, Bennett, Downey, (Braid, 56), Hughes (van der Merwe, 41); Weir (Horne, 54), McConnell (Matawalu, 41); Allan (Yanauyanutawa, 54), Brown (Scott, 31, MacArthur, 49), Murray, (De Klerk, 49), Gray (Harley, 41), Nakarawa (sin bin: 31-41), Eddie, Holmes (Fusaro, 49), Strauss (Ashe, 49).
Harlequins: Brown; Yarde, Hooper (Lindsay-Hague, 59), Turner-Hall, Monye (Walker, 66); Evans (Botica, 55), Care (sin bin: 36-46, Dickson, 46); Marler (Lambert, 41), Gray (Buchanan, 49), Sinckler (Doran-Jones, 49), Matthews (Merrick, 49), Robson (Twomey, 49), Wallace (Trayfoot, 57), Robshaw, Easter.