I am starting to type this match report as the Sky Analysis team are giving their thoughts on Ulster’s performance against Glasgow. They are fairly complimentary about Ulster’s game plan and execution, talking of how the Ulster side ‘squeezed’ the life out of their Scottish opponents , even comparing Ulster’s performance to Munster of old. Now, anyone who knows me would undoubtedly describe me as an optimist however I’m sure I’m not alone in being slightly disappointed tonight with Ulster’s efforts against a Glasgow side riddled with injuries.
The starting line ups made for interesting reading, on the Ulster side Steven Ferris was again absent due to a back injury, allowing the dynamic Iain Henderson to retain his place alongside Chris Henry and a returning Nick Williams in a strong Ulster back row. Paul Marshall was relegated to the bench, which many observers felt was harsh after his man of the match performance last week.
As mentioned the Glasgow ranks were well depleted, particularly in the back division, with regulars such as Chris Cusiter, Rory and Sean Lamont, DTH van der Merwe and Duncan Weir all absent due to injury and Tommy Seymour banned after last week’s game against Northampton.
Paddy Jackson started the game with a long kick off, and the sizeable travelling support was in fine voice as the rain came driving down at Scotstoun. The early minutes were characterized by both sides kicking the ball frequently, a pattern that would be repeated throughout the duration of the contest. Jared Payne looked particularly assured under the high ball early on, but was unable to conjure a counter attacking return. Ulster had the first opportunity to get on the score board with a Paddy Jackson penalty 51m out; however the kick was pulled to the left of the uprights.
The next 10 minutes of play were error strewn, with both sides knocking on a lot of ball in the slippery conditions. Ruan Pienaar fell short with a monster penalty attempt from 62m out, in hindsight a kick to the corner seems like it would’ve been the higher percentage option. Glasgow showed that whilst their backline was missing a number of regular starters, their pack had come to compete and regularly got the better of Ulster at the set piece, particularly disappointing as this was considered a great strength of Ulster’s play in their early season performances. Tom Court looked to be under pressure against his opposite number and was penalised 17 minutes for improper binding. This allowed Pete Horne the opportunity to put the home side ahead, his kick from 39m was unsuccessful, despite many of the home fans behind the posts querying the official’s decision.
Ryan Wilson showed pace and power carrying the ball well throughout the game, and the former Moseley man already capped by Scotland at under 20 level may be one to watch for the warriors. His break down the short side with 19 minutes on the clock eventually led to a home scrum. Ulster, under pressure again conceded another penalty, and this time Horne made no mistake giving the home team the lead from the 10 m line.
Ulster soon responded though, Williams and Pienaar combined well at the base of the scrum, and the Springbok scrum half threaded a bouncing kick through the home defence. Iain Henderson demonstrated his much vaunted athleticism chasing down the Warrior’s winger Mcgregor and making an excellent tackle leading to a penalty inside the home 22. Paddy Jackson converted to level the scores and after another excellent raking kick by Pienaar, the visitors earned a penalty which Jackson nudged over giving Ulster the lead on 26 minutes.
The half continued to it’s conclusion in frustrating fashion, the Glasgow back line offered little in the way of threatening play and any attacks they had, were easily smothered by Ulster, with a number of successful ‘choke’ tackles leading to scrums for the visitors. Ulster were let off the hook by a number of wayward penalty attempts from Pete Horne, before almost finishing the half with a score only for John Afoa to fumble deep inside the Glasgow 22.
After the interval, Nick Williams exploded into life with a number of carries, after a particularly quiet first period by his standards. The pattern of Glasgow dominance at the scrum, with another Ulster infringement on the loosehead side leading to a penalty, again squandered by Horne.
There were sparks of life from the Ulster backs , mainly an intercept from Paddy Jackson and a number of penetrating kick from Pienaar pinning Glasgow in their 22. Even the Ulster pack seemed to come to life wheeling a scrum against the head in the 22m and rumbling towards the try line, Williams again crossing the gain line with regularity, only for the chance to go begging on the 5m line. This was repeated shortly after, Paddy Wallace launched a smart kick into the corner and when the defender was bundled into touch Ulster looked to be in strong position. Once again, the ball was turned over allowing the pressure to be relieved again.
Ulster finally crossed the whitewash on the 59th minute when a great take from Henderson at the tail of the lineout set up a powerful Ulster maul which powered over from around 10m out, Chris Henry coming up with the score. Paddy Jackson added the extras, and further stretched Ulster’s lead minutes later with a penalty from the 10 m line. However, problems at the scrum continued, leaking more penalties as Court struggled, eventually being replaced.
The final 10 minutes offered a slight increase in entertainment mainly as a result of Glasgow decided to run the ball from deep, Wilson again popping up all over the field and looking dynamic in attack. Henderson and Henry showed great work rate defensively, getting through a lot of tackles, and working hard to slow down the ball. However, Glasgow were rewarded for their increased endeavour when sevens specialist Manawalu rose above fellow substitute Gilroy to claim a cross field kick and score. The try was unconverted leaving the final score 19-8 to Ulster.
Ulster: Jared Payne, Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Andrew Trimble, Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar, Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (c), Dan Tuohy, Ian Henderson, Chris Henry, Nick Williams. Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson, Mike McComish, Paul Marshall, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy.
Glasgow Warriors : Stuart Hogg, Byron McGuigan, Peter Murchie, Peter Horne, Alex Dunbar, Ruaridh Jackson, Henry Pyrgos, Ryan Grant, Dougie Hall, Mike Cusack, Tom Ryder, Al Kellock (capt), Josh Strauss, Chris Fusaro, Ryan Wilson. Replacements : Finlay Gillies, Ofa Fainga’anuku, Gordon Reid, Tim Swinson, Rob Harley, John Barclay, Scott Wight, Niko Matawalu.
All in all, I think the Ulster support will be glad to have got out of Glasgow on a bad night with a win, however we have come to expect more from the boys in white this season and last. There were a number of positives from the performance, in general the defense looked solid and apart from the try wasn’t realy threatened all night. Chris Henry was excellent at the breakdown, as his development into a quality openside continues. He was ably assisted by Henderson who looks very comfortable at this level, and it was good to see Williams showing no ill effects from the injury that caused him to miss last week’s game.
However, Ulster struggled to find any rhythm at the set piece and both scrum and lineout where constantly under pressure particularly in the scrum. Not only this but they looked happy to kick to the corners all night, when it looked on paper that they should be far superior in the back division to their counterparts. Ulster set the bar with their early season performances, and this was at a level far below that admittedly high standard.
As the only unbeaten team at the top level of European Rugby, Ulster may be happy with their start to the season, however much sterner tests await them as they progress, particularly in the Heineken cup. In my opinion, for the first time this year the scrum showed signs of creaking under pressure and the lineout was not firing as well as it has, and these issues need to be addressed quickly as they are sure to be tested again before long.