Sunday 22 October 2017

Ulster stand-ins blown away in Scotstoun phony war

Glasgow 32-10 Ulster

Ulster's Sam Arnold is tackled by Glasgow Warriors' Sean Lamont
Ulster's Sam Arnold is tackled by Glasgow Warriors' Sean Lamont

David Barnes

There will be a sense of déjà vu about next Friday night's Guinness Pro12 semi-final when these teams meet again at the same venue. A bonus-point victory for Glasgow Warriors meant that they skipped ahead of the Ospreys to finish the regular season at the summit of the league table.

Ulster finish the campaign in fourth place. Neil Doak rested most of his key players for this match, suggesting that the head coach had already accepted that a home semi was out of reach, so he will be slightly disappointed but not all surprised by this outcome.

Ulster look likely to be without influential lock Franco Van Der Merwe for next Friday's challenge, after the South African suffered a fairly serious looking ankle injury midway through the first half of this encounter.

"No team has won this competition from an away semi-final, so getting a home tie is massive for us," said man of the match Finn Russell. "But we know that they'll be hurting from what just happened so we're expecting them to really come at us with all guns blazing.

"We knew at half-time that Munster had four tries so we had to throw everything at them. The first ten minutes of the second half wasn't as good as it needed to be, but once we broke them down and got the phases going, we were able to run them off the pitch."

Playing with a strong wind at their backs, Ulster dominated possession and territory in the first half, but spurned a number of gilt-edged scoring opportunities - notably when Louis Ludik chose not to feed Rory Scholes, who was in acres of space on his outside, and also when Iain Henderson coughed up the ball as he burrowed for the line.

The pressure was eventually turned into points, when captain Chris Henry muscled his way over from close range, with Ian Humphreys adding the extras. The Ulster stand-off added a penalty with four minutes to go in the half - although that decision to go for the sticks rather than the corner after Rossouw De Klerk flopped illegally over the ball at a ruck was a curious one given that the Warriors were really struggling at this point to keep their heads above water with Jonny Gray in the sin-bin.

Two penalties from Russell meant Ulster's advantage was only four points at the break, and they had to play into a strong wind in the second half. There was some serious firepower to come off the bench - but by the time the likes of Ruan Pienaar were sent into the fray, this match was already over as a contest.

Glasgow burst into the lead in the 54th minute when Stuart Hogg collected his own chip ahead and swallow-dived over the line in sensational style; then Russell demonstrated both elegance and power to slip between two defenders before running over the top of two more tacklers on the way to a second try for the home team.

Ulster's plight wasn't helped by the loss of Andrew Warwick for 10 minutes, after the prop was shown the yellow card for pulling down a maul, and Russell went over for try number three after seven minutes of relentless Warriors pressure.

The bonus point was in sight for an increasingly raucous full house at Scotstoun, and the home support did not have to wait. With eight minutes of the match left, Ryan Wilson put Richie Vernon through a gap, and the centre sprinted home from 20 yards.

Ulster won't rest their leading lights next week, but whether the recall of the likes of Tommy Bowe, Paddy Jackson and Rory Best is enough to turn around a 22-point difference remains to be seen.

They will be acutely aware that had they managed to restrict the Warriors to just three tries in the second half, then a perhaps less daunting trip to Thomond Park to take on Munster would have lain in store.

Scorers - Glasgow: Hogg, Russell (2), Vernon tries; Russell 2 pens, 3 cons.

Ulster - Henry try, Humphreys con, pen.

Glasgow: S Hogg (P Murchie); T Seymour, R Vernon, P Horne (D Weir 75), S Lamont (H Pyrgos 51); F Russell, N Matawalu; R Grant (G Reid 51), D Hall (P MacArthur 51), R De Klerk (M Cusack 51), R Gray, A Kellock (L Nakarawa 60), J Strauss, C Fusaro (R Wilson 18- 28, 51), A Ashe.

Ulster: L Ludik; R Scholes, S Arnold, S McCloskey (T Bowe 63), M Allen (T Bowe 10-19); I Humphreys (P Jackson 49-55, 60), P Marshall (R Pienaar 74); A Warwick, R Herring, R Lutton, L Stevenson, F Van Der Merwe (I Henderson 18, K McCall 65), C Ross, C Henry (I Henderson 17-18), R Diack.

Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)

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