Glasgow Warriors 35-22 Connacht

Guinness PRO14 Finals Series rugby will be coming to Scotstoun, as Glasgow Warriors ensured they would be finishing on top of Conference A with a 35-22 victory over Connacht.

The home side ran in four tries in front of a capacity crowd, securing a home semi-final as they continue their hunt for domestic glory.

Having so often this season been the team to have made the faster start, Glasgow were dealt an early blow by their visitors as prop Finlay Bealham was driven over from a rolling maul after just 80 seconds. Jack Carty’s conversion sailed wide, but the Irish side led 5-0.

That lead was almost immediately extinguished, as the Warriors replied in typically swashbuckling style. A set play from a lineout saw DTH van der Merwe get on the outside of Bundee Aki, with the Canadian drawing the last and before feeding Stuart Hogg for the simplest of scores. Peter Horne added the extras, and the home side led 7-5 after five minutes.

Horne extended his side’s lead just two minutes later, taking advantage of a neck roll from Connacht captain Jarrad Butler to add three points from the tee, before repeating the feat on 12 minutes to take the score to 13-5 in favour of the hosts.

A third successful penalty from Horne made sure the Warriors kept the scoreboard ticking over, with the home side’s lead at 16-5 after 21 minutes.

Despite trailing on the scoreboard, Connacht were enjoying their fair share of possession in the game. They eventually got some form of reward on 24 minutes, with Carty landing a penalty from 40 metres to reduce the deficit to eight points.

However, it was the Warriors that were looking by far the most dangerous with ball in hand, a fact they proved just moments later. Horne’s delayed pass found Alex Dunbar on a short line, with the Scotland centre showing enough pace in his first appearance after injury to cross from 30 metres. With the conversion successful, Glasgow’s lead was increased to 23-8 with just over ten minutes remaining in the half.

On the stroke of half-time, the Warriors crossed for their third try of a dominant opening period. After sustained pressure in the Connacht 22, it was left to Fraser Brown to burrow over from close-range, with Horne adding the extra two for a 30-8 advantage at the interval.

Having finished the first half with a try, Dave Rennie’s men secured the bonus-point with their first chance of the second. Receiving the ball on halfway, Dunbar’s switch pass found Matt Fagerson, with the back-row charging into the Connacht 22 before feeding Henry Pyrgos on the inside. The scrum-half did just enough to duck under the challenge of the last defender and ground the ball at the base of the post. Horne was off target with the conversion leaving the score at 35-8.

Down on the scoreboard, the visitors continued to pressurise the Glasgow defence as they searched for a way back into the match. However, despite losing Alex Allan to the sin bin, the home side’s defence held firm through phase after phase of Connacht possession.

The visitors eventually found their breakthrough with 13 minutes to play. From turnover ball, Stacey Ili’s break took Connacht into the 22, with Caolin Blade on hand in support to take the final pass and touch down, despite the best efforts of the Glasgow cover defence. Carty’s conversion was on target, taking the score to 35-15 in favour of the Warriors.

Connacht were finishing the match the stronger, enjoying the bulk of both possession and territory as time ticked away. Their dominance at the scrum earned them a penalty try with four minutes remaining, with Rob Harley shown a yellow card to add insult to injury for the hosts.

However, on a night when the Warriors made sure that there would be one more match in Glasgow this season, the sold-out Scotstoun crowd were in full voice as they celebrated a 35-22 victory. Dave Rennie’s men will be sure to avoid overdoing the celebrations, though, with the rearranged trip to Ulster just eight days away.