Glasgow’s clash with Scarlets during the 2018/19 season produced arguably the finest backs to the wall performance of any game in the Dave Rennie era. It was a match that was defined by one moment in particular. Alex Allan’s shoulder to the head of Jake Ball lead to the Warriors’ prop being red carded and his side playing shorthanded for more than an hour.
The Glasgow 23 selected was already missing 19 players due to injuries / international rest periods. Scott Cummings was the only member of the starting XV who would also fill the same role in the PRO14 final nearly six months later. With the visitors bringing a chunk of their Welsh stars back into the fold for this fixture a task that had looked extremely difficult took on the air of an impossible mission. Seemingly the Glasgow players and coaches thought differently though. Here are 5 moments that illustrate that mentality and how the Warriors found a way to win.
20.15 – Smashing the scrum
The game went a little bit bonkers in the aftermath of the red card. Rhys Patchell booted the ball dead from the resultant penalty. Ruaridh Jackson went for a cheeky 22 drop-out – and won a penalty. Niko Matawalu kept the pace up with a quick tap. It was as if the players were saying “Doesn’t matter if we’re down to 14. This is Glasgow – and we’ll still just set aboot ye”.
As ever though everything slows down for the scrum. The unfortunate Matt Smith is sacrificed to get a loosehead prop on the pitch. Rather handily for Glasgow he comes in the sizeable shape of Oli Kebble. Still – it’s 7 v 8 in the setpiece and it’s Scarlets’ put in. The visitors’ main concern is their attacking alignment. At least until the ball is in. Then the power comes on with that man Kebble to the fore. There isn’t even an opportunity for the Scarlets to get the ball out. They try to twist away from the Glasgow drive but referee Frank Murphy’s arm is up.
In a matter of 2 minutes Scarlets went from kicking to the corner looking for a 10-3 advantage and control of the game to falling behind to the 14 men of Glasgow – a lead the Warriors would not relinquish for the remainder of the evening.
37.29 – Counter ruck to counterattack
Just before half-time came Scarlets’ best moments of the half. A rare penalty conceded by Glasgow (1 of just 3 that came after the red card) allowed Patchell to kick for touch and an attacking lineout. Strong running saw Uzair Cassiem make it to within a metre of the Warriors’ line. With the home side scrambling a try looked almost inevitable.
It’s two phases after that Cassiem bust. Nick Grigg has just kept Rhys Patchell out but the ball’s coming back infield again. Some huge physicality is required to halt the momentum. It comes in the shape of a 3-pronged attack by the Glasgow forwards. First Scott Cummings gets off the line and down low to chop the ball carrier before he can hit the gainline. With a slight advantage won for the Warriors first D’arcy Rae and then Adam Ashe follow up with perfect clearouts to remove the two Scarlets guarding the ball. It’s about as good as you can get from the big men in the shadow of their own posts.
It didn’t stop there though. With the ball available on the Glasgow side after the exemplary counter rucking most teams would have been thinking about getting the ball off the pitch and getting reorganised. Not the Warriors though. George Horne had just one thought in his mind – release Niko Matawalu down the wing. Instead of conceding a try just before the break Glasgow were able to hack the ball upfield and, when Steff Evans won the race to get back, took him to touch and created one final pre-halftime attacking opportunity for the home side instead!
41.05 – Turnover ball
All night the Warriors were able to put huge pressure on their opponents at ruck time. Throughout the first half George Turner and Chris Fusaro in particular were a pain in the proverbials for the Scarlets. Penalties won for holding on; possession pilfered; ball slowed down time and time again. The visitors must have been sick of the sight of Glasgow’s hooker and openside.
As the Scarlets try to generate some go forward Chris Fusaro strikes again with a steal that not only kills the visitors’ attack but starts the possession that allows Glasgow to, remarkably, extend their lead to 20-3. Fuzzy’s been sniffing around a couple of rucks by this point, looking for that chance to get in ahead of the Scarlets’ clearout. With Oli Kebble and D’arcy Rae bringing a double hit on Lewis Rawlins the veteran openside doesn’t hesitate. It’s the speed that he gets on the ball that impresses so much. There’s only a slight delay from the visitors but by the time they arrive the ball has already been burgled. It’s so clean in fact that there hasn’t even been a chance for a holding on penalty. No matter – the home side love to play off turnover ball and that’s exactly what they do.
Fusaro’s steal was whipped away quickly and Ruaridh Jackson sent a deep kick into space. Granted there was a bit of good fortune with the way the ball bobbled into Nick Grigg’s hands – but you can’t win the lottery unless you buy a ticket…
48.00 Small moments with big consequences
In the post match discussions that take place across homes, pubs and rugby forums attention is understandably drawn to the high-profile moments. The bombed tries, missed kicks and refereeing calls where it’s relatively easy to know what would have happened if the action had turned out a different way. There are myriad small moments throughout a game that can be just as influential though.
After Nick Grigg’s score and an amazing Warriors’ try that never was (chalked off for a forward pass), Scarlets managed to get their first 5-pointer of the evening courtesy of a couple of rather fortunate scuffs through. With more than half an hour to play there was the potential for the momentum to shift dramatically and for Glasgow to find themselves under the cosh. Instead, up stepped Tim Swinson.
There’s not much to the moment itself. The kick-off from Brandon Thomson following the visitors’ try is high and hanging. The chase from the Warriors is good but with lifters in place there’s little chance of Robbie Nairn winning the ball. Swinson decides to take a bit of a flyer – running past the Scarlets’ receiver he puts himself in the perfect position to pilfer the ball from a stunned Steve Cummins.
Winning back possession is always useful but it’s what it lead to (and what it prevented) that influenced the game so heavily. For the next 21 minutes the visitors barely got their hands on the ball as Glasgow chipped away at the clock and extended their lead even further. 12 phases after pinching the kick-off another Swinson steal lead to Brandon Thomson’s third penalty of the evening. Then there were more penalties leading to another 20 phases – a period of Glasgow possession that drained nearly 5 minutes of game time. Another penalty kicked by Thomson. More phases. More penalties and a yellow card for the visitors.
Between that bit of inspiration from Tim Swinson and Jonathan Davies’ interception on 69 minutes the visitors made 5 passes and probably started to forget what the ball looked like!
55.32 Plan B
There has often been a great deal of criticism laid at the door of the Warriors if their high octane attacking style doesn’t bear fruit. No plan B is frequently the cry. Not physical enough to change the way they play. Well in the midst of that 21 minute spell that kept the Scarlets trapped in their own half of the field there was a close quarters tight game from Glasgow that showed they can change tack if required.
After winning yet another scrum penalty with 54.30 on the clock, Glasgow kick down the line and take the lineout inside the visitors’ 22. What follows is a huge effort from forwards and backs driving at short range and supporting each other superbly to give Scarlets no chance of winning the ball back. George Horne is clearing out rucks. Niko Matawalu is basically playing in the pack. It’s the forwards that take most of the credit though, picking themselves up time and time again for one more effort. 20 times they carry before winning the most straightforward penalty of the night to allow Brandon Thomson to extend the lead to 26-8. Every member of the pack gets their hands on the ball at least once but the key carries come from Siosiua Halanukonuka (4), George Turner (4), Adam Ashe (3) and Tim Swinson (3).
The forwards’ efforts didn’t just earn the reward of 3 points. Nearly 5 minutes elapsed between the scrum penalty near halfway and the Scarlets’ restart following Thomson’s successful kick. The physical toll on the defence helped to rebalance the extra work the shorthanded Glasgow pack were having to do. The pack ground their way towards victory, second by second and metre by metre.
It was clear from the reaction at full-time just what the win meant to the players and coaching staff. Unusually, Dave Rennie was down on the touchline straight after the final whistle. The boss made sure to shake the hands of each and every one of his players. A thanks and well done for an almighty effort that would play its part in providing inspiration and driving the team onwards to the playoffs.