ANYONE surprised by how easily Glasgow disposed of Ulster on Friday night can rest assured they are in good company: the Warriors themselves expected an altogether different type of contest in the PRO14 semi-final than the 50-20 triumph which has taken them through to Saturday’s final against Leinster.
While Ulster fell a bit flat on the big occasion, it has to be said that Glasgow outplayed them in every aspect of the match that mattered. And what augurs really well for the final is that the Warriors were dissatisfied with their own performance, believing that they could well have scored more than their seven tries, and should have conceded fewer than the three they let in.
“Ulster are a good side, and if I’m honest, everyone was a bit nervous about how Friday night was going to go,” said Ali Price, who got his team’s second try of the evening. “We were playing at home, where we’re obviously expected to do the job, but we knew they were going to be better than they were a month ago when we played them here.
“They were better in the quarter-final against Connacht – they managed to slow their ball down very effectively. If they’d managed to do that to us, I think it could have been very different. I certainly didn’t see the scoreline being like that.
“The pleasing thing for us that I think we played better last month against Leinster and Edinburgh. I think we were more clinical. I still think we left chances out there, where come a tighter game next week we might need to take them.
“We got a lineout on the right-hand side at one point, I threw the ball to Adam (Hastings) and we got turned over instantly. In a tighter game when you’ve managed to build that pressure and get that territory, you need to put a few more phases together and be clinical.
“In the middle part of the first half, Ulster were beginning to slow us down. They were good at tackling and being a nuisance over the ball. The tackler wasn’t necessarily rolling away. But, then again, we weren’t being brutal enough in trying to move them. Those are some areas we can improve.
“We’ve got three days’ training before the final and we’ve still got to work on things. But we’ve given ourselves a shot, which is brilliant.”
No matter the deficiencies that remain to be ironed out, Glasgow were still massively superior to a year ago, when they drifted into the play-offs well below their best then lost at home to Scarlets in the semi-final. Price himself had been off form, with head coach Dave Rennie revealing later in the year that the scrum-half had been “overweight – a bit heavy and sluggish” when he returned to the team from Six Nations duty with Scotland.
“Personally, I felt a lot different,” Price continued. “We sort of limped to that semi-final last year, not playing our best rugby.
“The Saracens game [the Champions Cup quarter-final defeat at the end of March] had to happen, I think. It was the kick up the arse we needed and we’ve not really looked back.
“We knew we needed to bring the brutality and the physicality, and our forwards have been outstanding with that. It’s allowed us to get on the front foot and we’ve got a damaging set of backs. It’s enabled us to play the sort of game we have, which is completely different to the back end of last season.
“I saw a few things about how the three-week gap affected us last year, but in terms of the group and in terms of how our training has been in-house, it’s been really competitive. There’s been no naming of a team and that’s the team that’s going to run for three weeks. Everyone has been mixed up, you don’t know where you lie, and there’s been a lot of energy.
“The performances we’ve managed to put back to back have given us a real spring in our step. Regardless of the break, we all watched the quarter-final and knew we had Ulster again and so focus was back on them.
“It was pleasing to start how we did. We brought the crowd into it and they were fantastic. It was nice to be sat with 15 minutes to go and be able to relax.”
Price had just turned 22 the last time Glasgow reached the final, and was not part of the matchday squad that beat Munster in Belfast. But he did travel with the team, and has fond memories both of the day and of the unexpected evening that followed it.
“I was 24th man that day, which was great. I flew out with the team and was around the matchday 23. I did the warm-up and all the rest of it and then stayed with the team after the game, which was brilliant.
“Our flight actually didn’t take off that night. We were meant to come home to Glasgow on the night of the final, but the pilot had left the light on in the cockpit, so the battery drained in the plane.
“We ended up staying another night in Belfast, which I was a part of. It was brilliant, with the trophy in the middle of the team. We were obviously celebrating and having a few beers. It was a pretty good night, but it actually seems like a long time ago now.”
No need to worry about missed flights this time, of course, with the final being just nine miles east of Scotstoun. The incentive of playing a final in their home city was something that the Warriors kept in the back of their minds, no more, as the play-offs approached, but now that it has become a reality they are hopeful of attracting a massive crowd to the 60,000-capacity stadium.
“We’ve not discussed it massively,” Price said of the venue. “What we had mentioned heading into the Edinburgh game, though, is that winning that match will ensure we play our remaining two games in our home city. Now we’ve made it to the final, so we can allow ourselves to think of it a little bit more.
“I’ve been and watched a couple of games, but obviously I haven’t ever got anywhere near the pitch before. I watched a European qualifier a few years ago and also a cup game. This was a few years ago now and there wasn’t a full-house.
“I’d like to think now that we’ve made the final, supporters of Scottish rugby will come and back us next weekend. We sell out at Scotstoun every week, basically, and people always say there’s such demand for tickets.
“I’d like to think we could triple what we get for our normal home games – plus the influx of other people who fancy going along to the final. I’d like to see Celtic Park close to full capacity. That would be pretty special.”