Performance in Connacht shows Warriors’ threat to Leinster
Glasgow come to Dublin with 66 Pro 12 tries to their credit
In Niko Matawalu Glasgow have a speedster who could turn your blood inside out
Last weekend’s performances by the Scarlets and Glasgow Warriors confirm the table rarely lies, with the Scots the more threatening visitors this weekend. We also know that Leinster remain top tier in Europe and are on the same level as Clermont Auvergne. What a game awaits us tomorrow; but what awaits Leinster?
Nine of the Glasgow team to defeat Ospreys the previous week were changed for the visit to Connacht. Often a depleted side offers more information than a top 15, as Gregor Townsend’s systems are more discernible when the second string are playing.
With fewer stars and less individual flair from keynote players and Lions, it leads the team to rely on systems.
Unfortunately the conditions last Saturday at the Sportsground, allied to Connacht’s overall poverty, meant Glasgow’s systems were not tested in any tangible way.
Connacht brought limited offensive flows, with pointless fringe attacks which were repulsed easily by Glasgow.
Without the ball, Connacht’s defensive systems were lacklustre and passive, especially for Glasgow’s opening try.
So Glasgow are hard to judge, but a massive word of warning, the Warriors return to Dublin with 66 Pro12 tries; more than anyone in the competition.
Their timing of these tries has been phenomenal, putting Ospreys out of the play-offs and earning monster wins over Munster and Cardiff Blues.
They can win and – with tomorrow in mind – they can win on the road. They are strong in contact, move the ball, build phases and have runners popping up all over the place. Most importantly, they have a very honest but brutal approach to the breakdown.
With the exception of their bench introduction, the only real point of interest was based around their breakdown. They were very disciplined through the gate as they funnelled for advantage. Not unlike Clermont, they work extremely hard after the tackle, powering very low through the gate and beyond the player on the deck.
None of their 15 completes the tackle until well beyond the traditional stage.
Sean Lamont has many detractors but when he pulls a player down he swivels his body around and attacks the space beyond the ball. This will make the Leinster backrow’s job more difficult.
The Leinster backrow will note that Glasgow score tries at will and Leinster have not slowed down the Scottish flow in the recent past.
A lazy conclusion would be Leinster are playing a poor man’s Leinster tomorrow but there’s no doubt the winners will be strong candidates for the trophy in two weeks time.
Another point of interest last week in Galway was the scrum.
Ronan Loughney looks in great shape and is very light on his feet with the ball in hand, but the Connacht scrum suffered.
There were 21 scrums, with Connacht losing two of their 11 and Glasgow winning all 10 of theirs.
My notes tell a very different – and costly – story.
On their own feed Connacht won two penalties but conceded two free kicks and two penalties. Crucially, they were unable to launch any form of attack, especially into the wind.
The scrums Connacht won were creaking platforms which allowed Glasgow to push forward in defence, attacking the evolving Connacht phases and earning penalties because the home side were under huge pressure.
Conversely, Glasgow gained a further four penalties and one free kick from their put-in, and with such comfort had an attacking platform where substitute scrumhalf Nikola Matawalu launched Lion Sean Maitland over the line for a seven-pointer.
The scrum was a real asset to Glasgow and this will hardly be a surprise to Leinster. But Glasgow’s back three can add much value to the ball if Leinster struggle off this first phase.
Glasgow’s scrum is solid but their lineout at times less so. Their four-man short lineout is, strangely, very condensed in five metres.
This short format is when Glasgow will set a point attack through loose forwards from off the top ball on a narrow channel with an aggressive rewind down the blind side.
Their lineout maul was disjointed and loose and lacking real threat. It was comfortably managed by Connacht.
In general play, Glasgow fly up in defence – something Connacht couldn’t manage.
This was particularly damaging into the wind as Connacht couldn’t kick out if in trouble.
It was very smart pressure play from Glasgow. In the main they play the same direction all the way across the pitch, utilising traditional old school pods where they rarely rewind blind.
The one time they did rewind Connacht’s defensive line they were much too passive and porous and failed to engage the breakdown, conceding a very soft opening try.
Leinster have six Lions versus Glasgow’s two but the Scots have a brutal breakdown, an interesting scrum, a very interesting back three, backs that pop up all over the place and in the former Fijian winger Matawalu they have a speedster who could turn your blood inside out; far from a poor man’s Leinster and very dangerous.
As for Ulster versus Scarlets; I was in Ravenhill for Northampton’s untimely win that dented the rising confidence, but I fancy a big reaction and sense that Nevin Spence will be driving them hard towards the RDS; a solid win for Ulster.