Glasgow Warriors 9
DAVID BARNES @ Scotstoun Stadium
THE blooper reel for this match will last much longer than the highlights package. But – unlike when Beadle was about – there was precious little light entertainment in this 80-minute comedy of slap-stick errors.
In fairness, it was pretty treacherous conditions, with a strong wind blowing a vaporous rain into the Warriors’ faces during the first half, and with both teams shorn of their leading internationalists – who were being rested ahead of the commencement of the Six Nations next weekend – it was hardly a conducive environment for a rugby masterclass. But even taking account of those mitigating circumstances, this was pretty dire stuff.
Warriors trailed to a solitary Ospreys penalty at the break, and with that wind at their backs in the second half they were able to secure three opportunities for stand-off Brandon Thomson to dissect the posts, which was enough to see them home.
For Kenny Murray, who is usually the defence coach but has stood in as the main man this week while Dave Rennie is back in New Zealand attending his son’s wedding, it was a case of: job done now move on.
“It was a tough game,” he said. “The weather was difficult. We won the toss and I spoke to the nines and 10s about what they wanted to do, and we felt that because Ospreys kick so much, if we could defend well and defuse their kicking game until half-time, they’d then have to play from deep against that wind – and if they can’t kick what do they do?
“In the second half, we felt that if we could get a bit of territory and keep hold of the ball we’d eventually turn them over, but they defended well with a two-man tackle strategy, and the biggest thing was the support to breakdown in the first 20 minutes of the second half when we were a wee bit slow to get there.”
Murray then pointed out the significance of this result in the context of the Guinness PRO14 Conference A table. After three defeats on the bounce, Warriors have relinquished top spot and now have a group of sides, including last night’s opponents, breathing down their necks. This result has eased the pressure slightly.
“If we’d lost today then Ospreys were going to be just one point behind us, but now we’ve got that eight-point cushion,” he said. “We’ve got big games against Cardiff and Connacht coming up, so we need to try to win those and give really move away from that chasing group. This period, for me, will be the defining part of our season in the sense of where we’ll end up. It won’t be down to the last two games, it’s what happens in this window that will be crucial.”
With so many dropped balls, there should have been plenty of attacking opportunities, but neither side had the composure to capitalise. At one point in the first half, Niko Matawalu and Nick Grigg got a chance to have ago off a loose ball on the left, but that dangerous duo – who did so much damage when these two teams met in very similar circumstances in Swansea just before the start of the November Test series – had fallen into the same stupor as their colleagues, and an attempted exchange of passes ended with the ball sailing aimlessly into touch. You had to laugh, otherwise you would cry.
The deadlock was eventually broken just after the half hour mark when Ospreys stand-off Sam Davies – who had already missed one tricky shot at goal nine minutes earlier – was successful with his second attempt. And the visitors were just about worth that lead given that their open-side, Sam Cross, had produced the only moment of compelling rugby during that opening period, with a powerful burst through midfield which required a desperate last-gasp tackle from Nick Frisby on the supporting Tom Habberfield.
Davies missed another opportunity with a few minutes left in the half when he badly sclaffed another fairly longish penalty attempt, which would have meant that the half finished in an appropriately flat fashion, but it wasn’t quite over yet. There was still time for a mini bout of fisticuffs as frustrations boiled over, and, sadly, that was – by quite some distance – as exciting as it got.
Warriors will have taken some solace at half-time from the fact that they didn’t need to do an awful lot to vastly improve the level of their performance, but countering that would be the knowledge that the same was true for their opponents.
It did, indeed, improve for Warriors in the second half. Only marginally, but that was enough.
Thomson levelled the scores with a wind-assisted penalty two minutes after the restart. And with the Scotstoun faithful dutifully urging their team on with a couple of half-hearted chants, the home side set up camp for a while inside the Ospreys 22, before a Stafford McDowall surge ended up with Olly Cracknell snaffling the ball on the deck meaning that hint of an opportunity to open this game up quickly evaporated.
There was a break in play while Ospreys loose-head Gareth Thomas was treated and then loaded onto a stretcher with a suspected broken ankle, before Thomson edged Warriors into the lead with his second successful penalty on the hour mark when a lazy Ospreys runner interfered with play.
Buoyed on by that success, the stand-off stepped up again two minutes later and launched a third successful shot at the kindling, this time from inside his own half, which sailed comfortably over the crossbar.
Matawalu was yellow carded for brazenly slapping the ball out of Habberfield’s hand whilst in an offside position at a ruck, and Ospreys dominated territory and possession for the remaining ten minutes. But they didn’t have either the power or the guile to make it count.
Flanker Thomas Gordon and hooker Robbie Smith appeared from the bench late on for their first taste of pro rugby. They’ll be glad to have done it, but they’ll also be relieved that they will get more rewarding opportunities to wear the jersey in the future.
It was not a match which will live long in the memory, but four valuable points gained for Warriors which puts them back to the top of Conference A, at least until Munster play tomorrow [Saturday] afternoon; and perhaps more importantly, this result opens up some daylight between themselves and the beaten team, who are in third place.
Glasgow Warriors: R Jackson; L Jones (R Hughes 58), N Grigg (A Dunbar 70), S McDowall, N Matawalu; B Thomson, N Frisby; A Allan (J Bhatti 53), K Bryce (R Smith 77), S Halanukonuka (D Rae 45), T Swinson, S Cummings, R Harley, M Smith (T Gordon 70), A Ashe.
Ospreys: D Evans; H Dirksen, J Kotze, C Allen, L Morgan; S Davies, T Habberfield; G Thomas (R Jenkins 58), S Baldwin, T Botha (G Gajion 43), L Ashley, J King, O Cracknell, S Cross, R McCusker.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Glasgow Warriors: Pen: Thomson 3
Ospreys: Pen: Davies
Scoring sequence (Glasgow Warriors): 0-3 (h-t) 3-3; 6-3; 9-3