Champions Connacht handed harsh reality check by Glasgow

Second-half performance bordered on alarming for Pat Lam’s side as Warriors earn bonus point

Glasgow Warriors players celebrate after  Tim Swinson scores the bonus point try in the Guinness Pro 12 game against Connacht at The Sportsground. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Glasgow Warriors players celebrate after Tim Swinson scores the bonus point try in the Guinness Pro 12 game against Connacht at The Sportsground. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

Connacht 5 Glasgow Warriors 41

A summer, such as it’s been, is a long time in rugby. In Connacht’s first game as reigning Guinness Pro 12 champions, their predecessors as champions fairly rained on their parade. Although they were assuredly comparatively under-cooked after a delayed pre-season and lack of games, and will undoubtedly improve, as wake-up calls go their second-half performance bordered on alarming.

A near capacity crowd of 6,063 were reduced to largely stunned silence long before the end as the scale of this defeat worsened. Although Connacht had attempted to run the ball into a first-half gale with their customary ambition, and put together some nice phases, they had nothing like Glasgow’s accuracy or clinical finishing.

However, as the game slipped completely out of their reach, their forced handling and attempts at catch-up broke down to such an extent that they could scarcely hold onto the ball through a few phases. A ragged performance was compounded by too many missed tackles.

Glasgow, for their part, were excellent in defence and much sharper at the breakdown, both in clearing out their own ball and spoiling Connacht’s with their sharpness and counter-rucking. More aggressive in defence, they also held their depth and had more shape in attack, with Stuart Hogg a near constant menace when hitting the line. Jonny Gray was immense up front, typifying their physicality as well as marshalling a superior lineout, while new Italian winger Leonardo Sarto often made hay up the middle.

Galway being Galway, a brief torrential downpour about 15 minutes before kick-off gave way to a blast of sunshine as the home side completed their warm-up and were roared back to the dressingroom by a packed Clan Terrace. An even more thunderous roar greeted John Muldoon leading them back onto the pitch.

Connacht kicked off into a near gale-force wind, and a game which in normal circumstances would have featured two of the league’s most enterprising teams wasn’t helped either by Ian Davies replacing an injured Nigel Owens.

Even so, Connacht were quickly into their running game, and when Bundee Aki took Finlay Bealham’s pass in midfield and linked with Niyi Adeolokun, the winger showed his blistering turn of pace to speed through the gap, and even take Hogg on the outside only for the retreating Tommy Seymour to tackle him.

Even then, there was a lovely around-the-corner offload by Nepia Fox-Matamua, but from a turnover in contact, Hogg’s wind-assisted hoof downfield forced Denis Buckley, of all people the covering defender, to concede a lineout.

When Sarto carried strongly up the middle and offloaded out of traffic for Tim Swinson to keep the ball alive, from the recycle good hands by the halves and Hogg enabled Seymour to score in the corner as Adeolokun and, in turn, Cian Kelleher were drawn in.

Connacht were soon giving their crowd something to get their teeth into.

A concerted eight-man shove by their pack on a Glasgow put-in prevented a backpedalling Ryan Wilson from completing the pick-up. But another scrum and two penalties later, when Connacht went to the corner Gray pilfered Tom McCartney’s intended throw to Ultan Dillane.

Connacht were at least maintaining the heat at scrum time, which if nothing else meant the re-sets were helping to run down the clock. But it was their running and passing game which deserved a reward. After Matt Healy held his depth to outfox the blitz defence and link with Fox-Matamua going right to left, Connacht again quickly stretched Glasgow left to right and Aki stepped Alex Dunbar to break clear. Had he passed to Kelleher, with Adeolokun also on the outside, rather than take Hogg’s tackle, Connacht would assuredly have scored.

Instead, when Bealham’s offload didn’t go to hand, and this time Peter Horne hoofed the ball downfield where good counter-rucking by Gray led to a penalty for side entry which enabled Henry Pyrgos to make it 8-0.

Glasgow were up for it in a major way, and defended with real aggressive intent, pushing up hard to cries of ‘offside’ and leaving their imprint on carriers during or after the pass. But Wilson was altogether too late with a low hit on Jack Carty’s legs, which deserved the yellow card Ian Davies brandished.

Connacht attacked off the ensuing penalty to touch, but the opportunity was lost when Carty elected to grubber through for Adeolokun, whom Seymour hustled over the touchline. Helpfully for them though, Horne’s restart went out on the full.

From the scrum, Connacht went to their go-to man Aki. First he stepped Sam Johnson and made yards over the gain line that, as is often the case, he had no right to make. A couple of recycles later, he was trucking it up again, this time offloading for Buckley to keep the move alive, as Caolin Blade linked with their other prop Bealham. Although his pass died a little when tackled, the returning centre Eoin Griffin did superbly to gather and shift the ball on to Adeolokun who, faced by Pyrgos, stood him up to score on the outside by the corner flag.

However, Glasgow’s response with 14 men was impressive. The hugely influential Gray absolutely thundered into Blade to force a knock-on from the resumption and after Pyrgos had made the initial incision, Hogg came from deep onto Horne’s pass to find Seymour on the right touchline as Healy was drawn in, the Warriors winger stepped inside Kelleher to score.

Championship minutes, and within four of the resumption, the Warriors struck again into the wind. Connacht gave away a needless penalty at a lineout when tackling the man in the air and Sarto again did damage up the middle, beating Muldoon of all people.

Although both a lineout maul and then Sarto were held up, from the ensuing scrum Hogg steamed onto Horne’s pass from depth and with Dunbar’s decoy run checking Griffin, the fullback scored.

A long second-half was on the cards.

In response, Connacht’s running and passing game became a little frantic, Aki shovelling on a poor pass to Adeolokun and then Dillane losing the ball after a good gallop when looking to free his hands as he hit the deck in the tackle.

From the turnover, Johnson steamed through a thick green line and Hogg kept the ball alive on the left flank before Sarto beat Healy on the right wing, and after Pyrgos went close Swinson scored the bonus point try.

The crowd, already stunned, were soon almost in a stupor. Again Sarto did the initial damage with a big break from deep, and when Pyrgos sniped and stepped Danny Qualter, there was in inevitability about Sila Puafisi’s close-range finish.

Connacht, perhaps as shocked as the home fans, became even more inaccurate and from an intercept picked off by Wilson, there was an inevitability about the try again as first Ali Price fended off tacklers and then Sean Lamont burrowed through JP Cooney.

To compound Connacht’s woes, Peter Robb injured himself when making a tackle and after a lengthy delay was stretchered off with his neck in a brace.

No need for panic just yet, but Connacht’s response at home to the Ospreys next week needs to be more like champions now.

SCORING SEQUENCE: 11 mins Seymour try, 0-5; 26 mins Pyrgos pen 0-8; 34 mins Adeolokun try 5-8; 37 mins Seymour try 5-13; (half-time 5-13); 46 mins Hogg try, Pyrgos con 5-20; 54 mins Swinson try, Pyrgos con 5-27; 59 mins Puafisi try, Pyrgos con 5-34; 71 mins Lamont try, Clegg con 5-41.

CONNACHT: Cian Kelleher; Niyi Adeolokun, Eoin Griffin, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham; Ultan Dillane, Daniel Qualter; Eoin McKeon, Nepia Fox-Matamua, John Muldoon (capt).

Replacements: Kieran Marmion for Blade (48 mins), Ronan Loughney for Buckley (50 mins), Peter Robb for Griffin (55 mins), Dave Heffernan for McCartney, JP Cooney for Bealham, Lewis Stevenson for Dillane (all 61 mins), Shane O’Leary for Carty (66 mins), James Connolly for Muldoon (73 mins).

GLASGOW WARRIORS: Stuart Hogg; Leonardo Sarto, Alex Dunbar, Sam Johnson, Tommy Seymour; Peter Horne, Henry Pyrgos; Gordon Reid, Pat MacArthur, Zander Fagerson; Tim Swinson, Jonny Gray; Rob Harley, Simone Favaro, Ryan Wilson.

Replacements: Lewis Wynne for Wilson (18-27 mins) for Favaro (64 mins), Corey Flynn for MacArthur, Ryan Grant for Reid, Sila Puafisi for Fagerson (all 50 mins), Sean Lamont for Hogg (61 mins), Rory Clegg for Horne (64 mins), Tjiuee Uanivi for Swinson, Ali Price for Pyrgos (both 69 mins). Sin-binneed: Wilson (29-39 mins).

Referee: Ian Davies (WRU)

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