PRO14 semi-final: Warriors’ title dream shredded by Scarlets

Glasgow pay the price for defensive frailties as Welsh team enjoy four-try triumph

Rhys Patchell scores for Scarlets.
Rhys Patchell scores for Scarlets. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

GLASGOW WARRIORS 13

SCARLETS 28

STUART BATHGATE

@Scotstoun

JUST when Glasgow most needed to rise to the occasion, they fell flat. Scarlets were sharper, smarter and swifter for most of the match, and completely merited the victory in this PRO14 semi-final.

Dave Rennie’s team may have been the form outfit in the league for much of the season, but that long unbeaten run back in the autumn feels like a distant memory now, almost as if it had been achieved by a different team. Too many players who shone then were utterly lacking in lustre here, and too many big names failed to put in a big performance.

It will not quite be a case of back to the drawing board for the head coach this summer, but this painful defeat does provide perspective on how much progress the Warriors still need to make if they are to contend with the best teams in the league when it matters most. “We won’t offer excuses around that,” Rennie said. “We had a really good preparation.

“I think we showed in the last 20 minutes we had a lot of ascendancy and pressure. It was a little too late. At half-time, 21-3 down, a couple of quick scores and you’re back in the game, but we spent so much of the game down in our half first half. Their set piece worked pretty well and showed ability to look after the ball.


PRO14 semi-final player ratings: Glasgow Warriors (v the Scarlets)

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“We didn’t fire many shots in the first half, gave away too many penalties and gave them too many easy exits. We felt if we could get the tempo up and run them off their feet [in the second half] . . . . but we turned the ball over too much.”

Some of Finn Russell’s over-optimistic kicks ahead were partly responsible for that concession of possession, but the most damaging flaw in the first half was the defence’s frailty, as was made plain after four minutes when Scarlets drew first blood through a Rhys Patchell try. A scrum penalty against Zander Fagerson in the Glasgow 22 was kicked to touch, and after the first lineout drive was halted, loosehead prop Rob Evans popped up at scrum-half to recycle. Two passes later and Patchell all too easily rounded Nick Grigg and slid over for a score to which he added the conversion himself.

Glasgow had appeared ill at ease right from kick-off, having perhaps been unsettled by the enforced late change which saw Ruaridh Jackson replace the ill Stuart Hogg at full-back. Hogg, Rennie explained, had come down with food poisoning or something similar and had “started spewing after lunch.”

By contrast with the Warriors’ discomfiture, Scarlets could hardly have hoped for a better start – but they were dealt a blow with 10 minutes gone when the Edinburgh-bound John Barclay had to limp off with an injury that looks likely to rule him out of next weekend’s final. Ryan Wilson soon needed treatment too, but was able to resume, and a more promising spell of attacking play by the home team culminated in Finn Russell opening their account with a penalty. Before the Warriors could build on that score, however, they fell further behind due to some more slack defending.

The Defence

Scott Williams did the bulk of the damage, slipping all too easily past four Glasgow players before feeding Gareth Davies. The centre’s break had left Davies with only one defender to beat, and he did so comfortably with a simple change of direction, then touched down close to the posts to give Patchell an easy conversion.

While the home defence was in disarray, the Scarlets stood firm at the back, winning several penalties deep in their own territory to ram home their superiority in every aspect of play. It was no surprise when they scored their third try, eight minutes before the break, with the impressive Rob Evans finishing off another dynamic move and Patchell again adding the two points.

Glasgow thought they had hit back straight away when George Horne broke free and was about to touch down, but play was brought back as Siua Halanukonuka, on for Fagerson, had lost the ball forward. Another chance went begging in the last play of the half when a lineout drive crossed the line but was ruled to have been held up. It was a frustrating end to a woefully substandard first half from Rennie’s team, and the coach appeared to have few or no options on the bench.

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The Second Half

Henry Pyrgos did appear at the start of the second half, but only because Horne was off for an HIA, but it was going to take a lot more than a change at scrum-half to turn the tide. In fact, the most positive aspect of the early play after the interval was the Scarlets’ willingness to play fast and loose, allowing Glasgow a few scraps more than they had been able to feed off in the first half.

The home team’s hopes were further dimmed, however, when Grigg was sinbinned for a maul offence deep inside his own 22. Scarlets capitalised immediately, with captain Ken Owens claiming their fourth try from a lineout drive and Patchell once more adding the conversion.

Warriors Rally

If that was game over, at least the Warriors did not admit it. Right on the hour, they they at last scored a try, with Jonny Gray touching down from close range after a fine barging run by DTH van der Merwe. Russell, having a final match to forget before his move to France, failed to convert.

Glasgow were soon back on the attack, however, and thought they had pulled back another try when Gray pounced on an unguarded ball at the base of a ruck on the Scarlets line. But referee John Lacey, who had already incurred the wrath of the crowd with some of his decisions, awarded the visitors a penalty.

Glasgow kept plugging away, and with eight minutes left Grigg got their second try, showing some impressive strength to make it through the final few metres with two opponents on his back. Peter Horne, on for Russell, hit the conversion off an upright.

It was just one minor indication of how things had gone wrong for Glasgow. The spirit was there, all right, as was demonstrated by that late try and the attacks which continued right up to the final whistle. But far too many other things were lacking – above all, composure and coherence in defence.

Glasgow Warriors: R Jackson; T Seymour, N Grigg, S Johnson, D van der Merwe; F Russell, G Horne; J Bhatti, F Brown, Z Fagerson, T Swinson, J Gray, M Fagerson, X GIbbins, R Wilson. Substitutes: G Turner, A Allan, S Halanukonuka, R Harley, C Fusaro, H Pyrgos, P Horne, L Jones.

Scarlets: J McNicholl, T Prydie, S Williams, H Parkes, S Evans; R Patchell, G Davies; R Evans, K Owens,  S Lee; T Beirne, S Cummins; A Shingler, J Davies, J Barclay. Substitutes: R Elias, W Jones, W Kruger, L Rawlins, W Boyde, J Evans, D Jones, S Hughes.

Scorers: Glasgow: Tries: Gray, Grigg. Pen: Russell.

Scarlets: Tries: Patchell, G Davies, R Evans, Owens. Cons: Patchell 4.

Scoring sequence: 0-5, 0-7, 3-7, 3-12, 3-14, 3-19, 3-21 half-time, 3-26, 3-28, 8-28, 13-28.

Yellow card: Glasgow: Grigg.

Referee: J Lacey (Ireland).


PRO14 semi-final player ratings: Glasgow Warriors (v the Scarlets)


 

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Stuart Bathgate
About Stuart Bathgate 587 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.