Nightmare start for Connacht as they are hammered at home by Glasgow
CONNACHT 5 GLASGOW WARRIORS 41
Whatever about winning it, Connacht learnt just how difficult defending the Guinness Pro12 title is going to be this season as Glasgow Warriors brought them crashing back down to earth with a shuddering thud that will reverberate around the league this evening.
The westerners want to go back to back by being better than they were last year, but the confidence earned in winning the league last season will be dented by the nature of this six-try-to-one humbling at the hands of the 2015 champions.
Whether it was their truncated pre-season or the process involved in replacing a quartet of key players, Pat Lam’s side looked well short of the standards they set last year as the feel-good factor seeped away from the 6,063 fans at the Sportsground.
As is the norm, Connacht were facing a team packed with vastly more international experience as Glasgow fielded a team that contained 473 caps compared to the home side’s 18.
After finishing the season with successive defeats at this venue, Gregor Townsend's side arrived locked and loaded and looked by far the sharper side.
With Jonny Gray and Stuart Hogg looking like Lions in the making and Italy international Leonardo Sarto providing some excellent go-forward ball, they looked the far sharper side as the hosts made some uncharacteristic mistakes on both sides of the ball.
If there was a perception out there that Pat Lam would be changing the way his side play it was quickly out the window as the hosts continued where they left off by attacking from deep through Niyi Adeolokun after the excellent Finlay Bealham showed strong skills in midfield, but Tommy Seymour tracked him down.
The westerners went left and Cian Kelleher picked up a lovely Nepia Fox-Matamua off-load but a stray boot cost possession and Hogg kicked deep where the covering Denis Buckley was forced to concede a lineout.
Having earlier failed to capitalise on such good field position, Glasgow weren’t about to pass up a second opportunity as Sarto surged up the middle and kept the ball alive for Henry Pyrgos, Peter Horne and Hogg to work an overlap for Seymour who skated over in the corner which went unconverted by Peter Horne.
Despite a Fox-Matamua knock-on, a big scrum surge against the head allowed Connacht earn some momentum of their own and Ryan Wilson then handed Jack Carty a chance to kick to the corner, but the lineout was picked off by Jonny Gray.
Perhaps understandably given their limited build-up, Connacht were making the kind of errors that just weren’t part of their game last year as Carty knocked on in a good position, Tom McCartney was penalised for holding on and Bundee Aki held on to the ball instead of putting Cian Kelleher away from a debut score.
Instead, the Warriors increased their lead as Gray forced a penalty with a brilliant counter-ruck and Horne secured the three points.
Glasgow’s Ryan Wilson handed Connacht a way back into the game when he picked up a yellow card for a reckless late tackle on Carty and within minutes, Adeolokun had his first try of the season after a brilliant midfield surge from Aki and some slick hands from props Denis Buckley and Bealham allowed Griffin to send his winger over.
Carty missed the touchline conversion and the visitors hit back immediately as Gray milled Caolan Blade in the tackle forcing the knock-on and, from the scrum Henry Pyrgos made good gains up the middle before Hogg released Seymour who stepped inside Kelleher to score his second try.
Any chance for second-half momentum slipped away from Connacht almost immediately as indiscipline from Ultan Dillane allowed Glasgow start on the front-foot as he played Gray in the air.
Hogg kicked for the corner and Connacht illegally stopped the visiting maul, so they went again and the champions’ defence held firm as the impressive Sarto was held up over the line.
Unperturbed, the Warriors attacked off the resulting scrum and Horne pulled it back to Hogg who split Griffin and Matt Healy to score.
Henry Pyrgos nailed the conversion to stretch the lead to 15 and things were starting to look bleak for the defending champions whose attack simply wasn’t gelling as Aki threw a pass into touch before Griffin knocked on another wayward pass from the Samoan.
Instead, the far slicker Glasgow secured the bonus point as Sam Johnson carried a threat deep into Connacht territory, before Hogg did well to keep the ball alive. The Warriors swept wide where Sarto had Healy in all sorts of trouble, before Pyrgos carried close and Tim Swinson dived over.
Carty kicked a penalty dead as the home side tried to get back into it, but they were gathering back between their posts after more damage from the brilliant Sarto was followed by Pyrgos beating Danny Qualter all-ends up. He found Hogg who was stopped short by Healy, but Sila Puafisi crashed over from short-range as things began to look ugly on the scoreboard with Pyrgos converting.
Any attempts to redress the balance came a cropper due to poor handling and instead Wilson picked off a loose pass which led to Sean Lamont crashing over from close range and Rory Clegg converted to complete the rout.
A nasty-looking head injury suffered by Peter Robb just compounded the home side's misery as the game petered out.
The Ospreys arrive into Galway next Saturday night and the champions have a lot of work to do.
CONNACHT – C Kelleher; N Adeolokun, E Griffin (P Robb 55), B Aki, M Healy; J Carty (S O’Leary 66), C Blade (K Marmion 48); D Buckley (R Loughney 50), T McCartney (D Heffernan 61), F Bealham (JP Cooney 61); U Dillane (L Stevenson 61), D Qualter; E McKeon, N Fox-Matamua, J Muldoon (capt) (J Connolly 73).
GLASGOW WARRIORS – S Hogg (S Lamont 61); L Sarto, A Dunbar, S Johnson, T Seymour; P Horne (R Clegg 64), H Pyrgos (A Price 69); G Reid (R Grant 50), P MacArthur (C Flynn 50), Z Fagerson (S Puafisi 50); T Swinson (T Uanivi 69), J Gray; R Harley, S Favaro (L Wynne 64), R Wilson (L Wynne 18-27).
Referee: I Davies (Wales)