We need to talk about: “Best win of the season”

Glasgow Warriors v Leinster, 18th March 2016

When the story of the season is written this game is likely to end up as just a footnote to a campaign that will be judged as successful or unsuccessful  based on how close Glasgow come to defending their title. This 80 minutes represented so much more for the Warriors though. Embodying the spirit of the club’s motto “Whatever it takes” to a level rarely seen outwith the playoffs, a patchwork 23 found a way to win when circumstances seemed to be conspiring against them.

Leading up to kick-off, despite representing a clash of the two most recent Pro 12 champions, this was not a game that stirred the passions the way that might have been expected. With 22 Glasgow and Leinster players on duty in the 6 Nations another Scotland v Ireland battle was drawing the focus and attention away from Scotstoun. The Warriors could only call on a handful of first choice players, mostly in the forwards, with their opponents in a similar position – although the Dubliners senior players were to be found in their backline. Referee George Clancy was the man in the middle yet again and the stage was set for another tension-filled evening.

First half

Leinster proved more adept at retaining possession but it seemed the more phases they went through the more the Glasgow forwards were able to impose themselves on the breakdown. It was through their backs that the visitors demonstrated some fluency – in their contrasting styles Te’o and Ringrose found space in the middle of the field but the Warriors cover defence was frantic, desperate and often outstanding. In that first 40 Grayson Hart, in the sweeper role, was one of the busiest players on the pitch. Lee Jones also had to use every bit of his pace to haul down Ringrose after an outstanding chip and catch from the young Irishman.

Glasgow rode their luck at times, no more so than in the latter stages of the half when Leinster bombed a seemingly certain try (young Cathal Marsh will have nightmares about his cut-out pass that went behind a 4 to 2 overlap) and Isa Nacewa missed a penalty shot from almost directly in front of the posts. The latter seemed like justice done at least after a decision against Simone Favaro that the hyperactive Italian was querying with George Clancy all the way up the tunnel. With the game only remaining tied at 6-all due to Leinster’s profligacy Toony’s half-time team talk needed to have an impact…

Second half

The first sign of yet more disruption to the side came when Leone Nakarawa lead the side out after the break (a proud moment for the big Fijiweegie as he captained the side for the first time) meaning skipper, Peter Murchie wasn’t fit to return. Having already lost Rory Hughes and Sam Johnson in the first period the only back replacement left was scrum half Ali Price. The reshuffle involved left a rather makeshift backline:

  • Full back – Glenn Bryce. Understudy to Hogg and Murchie
  • Wing – Lee Jones. Understudy to Seymour, Naiyarovoro and Lamont
  • Centre – Mark Bennett. First choice
  • Centre – Nick Grigg. Academy player making his debut
  • Wing – Grayson Hart. Scrum half playing out of position
  • Stand off – Rory Clegg. Emergency signing with all 4 other Glasgow 10s unavailable. Rory only arrived the day before the match and hadn’t played a game for 2 months!
  • Scrum half – Ali Price. Understudy to Pyrgos and Blair

The early exchanges saw Glasgow come out and make a statement of intent, dominating possession through efficient work at the breakdown. Like their opponents they found those final couple of metres to cross the line just too difficult. With a reliable kicker in their ranks though they were able to edge into a 6 point lead that would stand for 22 long, long minutes straining the nerves of everyone in the stadium.

If you’re having to make a huge defensive effort one person you don’t want to lose is Italian international Simone Favaro – but in the same phase of play both he and Gordon Reid had to leave the pitch through injury, emptying the Glasgow bench with almost a quarter of the game to play. Simone’s replacement, James Malcolm, was one of the Warriors’ Academy players and given that he was actually the reserve hooker it was just one more adjustment for a pack that finished the game like this:

  • LH prop – Jerry Yanuyanutawa. Understudy to Reid, Grant and Allan
  • Hooker – James Malcolm. Academy player
  • TH prop – Zander Fagerson. Understudy to Puafisi
  • Lock – Greg Peterson. Understudy to Gray, Nakarawa and Swinson
  • Lock – Scott Cummings. Academy player
  • BS flanker – Tyrone Holmes. Out of position openside (where he normally backs up Favaro and Fusaro). Tyrone was playing his first game in over 5 months having only recently returned to full training.
  • OS flanker – Fraser Brown. Out of position hooker
  • Number 8 – Leone Nakarawa (c). Out of position lock

Late on in the second period with Leinster seemingly endlessly pressing for the converted try that might have won them the game it became a battle of wills and a matter of how desperate the Glasgow defenders were to protect those precious 4 league points. A few moments exemplified the efforts of the men in black and blue as the “We are Warriors” chants increased in volume: 5’9” Nick Grigg driving his man back in the tackle; a knackered Rory Clegg getting off the line Favaro-style to cut off the Leinster attack; Fraser Brown nailing tackle and after tackle; and time and again Leone Nakarawa getting over the ball to slow it down or win a turnover/penalty.

The squad

At the final whistle Glasgow had three Academy players on the pitch (Malcolm, Cummings and Grigg) and across the season no less than 6 development players have appeared for the club. None of these youngsters have looked at all out of place and it’s a testament to the quality of the coaching at that level and the ability of the Warriors staff and players to integrate these young talents into the Glasgow culture and standards.

In fact one of the features of the season has been how deep into their squad the Warriors have gone on a regular basis. Between the effects of the World Cup, 6 Nations and the weather the club have been left to face 12 of their Pro 12 fixtures without at least some (or in some cases all) of their internationalists – 22 were on duty at the RWC at one stage. The backups who’ve been brought in have ensured Glasgow have been competitive and taken a league point from every game, despite this run including arguably the club’s 4 toughest away trips – Thomond Park, the RDS, Liberty Stadium and Kingspan Stadium. The overall record through these matches was:

  • 7 wins, 1 draw, 4 losses
  • 3 try BPs, 4 losing BPs
  • 37 points – out of a possible 60 (62%)

“Best win of the season”

In many ways it was a rather unlovely spectacle. Scotstoun had only once before been treated to a tryless league match (coincidentally on Leinster’s first visit back in 2012) and there were errors aplenty. Coach Gregor Townsend’s description of the victory as the best the side will have all season is apt though. Despite all the obstacles placed in their way the Warriors battled their way to a win. What it meant could be seen in the reaction of the players and on the faces of the fans who were sent off into the night with smiles on their faces after one of the most memorable nights in Scotstoun’s history.

 

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