Glasgow Warriors 36-33 Ulster
Adam Nicol was the hero for Glasgow Warriors in their sole home pre-season match this afternoon, as the prop’s late score handed Dave Rennie’s side a 36-33 victory over Ulster in The Famous Grouse Pre-Season Challenge at Scotstoun.
A crowd of 7126 was treated to 10 tries in total in a back-and-forth encounter, as both sides played their part in an enjoyable afternoon of rugby.
It was the visitors who struck first on an overcast afternoon in Glasgow’s west end, as Rob Herring was driven over from a five-metre lineout after just two minutes. John Cooney’s conversion drifted wide, but the Ulstermen had the perfect start.
An error-strewn opening quarter saw both sides struggle to make inroads, with attacking chances confined to half-breaks. Huw Jones looked to cut through the opposition defence to no avail, whilst Rob Lyttle’s chip ahead rolled into touch before the Ulster winger could regather.
Yet Lyttle would find more luck with 17 minutes on the clock, regathering his own grubber kick to touch down in the corner after good counter-attacking from Craig Gilroy. The conversion from Cooney was this time on target, and Ulster led 12-0.
That try seemed to spark the Warriors attack into life, as a darting break from Nick Frisby and a neat offload found Brandon Thomson, who in turn found Rory Hughes on the wing. The man from Castlemilk threw an offload inside to Jones, who determinedly stayed on his feet to win a penalty on the Ulster 22.
That was the catalyst for the hosts’ opening score. Turning down the option of three points, Thomson kicked to the corner and asked his forwards to do the job. Do it they did, with Ulster bringing down the maul illegally and leaving referee Ben Blain with no option but to award a penalty try. Thomson converted, with Ulster back-rower Jordi Murphy shown a yellow card to boot.
Almost immediately, the home side struck again. A quick 22 caught the Ulster defence unawares, with Frisby finding Jones in acres of room on the wing. The centre raced up to halfway before drawing the last man and feeding Hughes, who sprinted clear to touch down in the corner. A deadeye conversion from Thomson handed Glasgow a 14-12 lead with five minutes of the half to play, to the delight of the Warrior Nation.
A yellow card for Oli Kebble for a tip tackle on Gilroy did nothing to hinder the home side’s momentum, as Thomson knocked over a penalty on the stroke of half-time to hand his side a 17-12 lead at the interval.
As was the case in the first half, it was Ulster that made the brighter start. A last-ditch tackle denied Lyttle a second try of the match, but there was to be no denying Stuart McCloskey just a phase later as the big centre was on hand to touch down. The conversion from Cooney was never in doubt, and the visitors led once more.
The Warriors responded in style just five minutes later, just reward for phase after phase of attack. An initial maul from five metres was halted illegally by the Ulster pack, before hooker Johnny Matthews was driven over for his first try in a Glasgow shirt on 49 minutes. With the conversion on target from Thomson once again, the Warriors held a 24-19 lead.
In what was fast becoming an end-to-end encounter, it was the Ulstermen who were next to attack. A powerful burst from Kieran Treadwell allowed Dave Shanahan to scamper free, with only good cover defence from Kyle Steyn denying the scrum half.
The visitors once again nosed their way in front just before the hour mark, however. In what was a carbon copy of Glasgow’s opening try, referee Blain awarded the men in white a penalty try after a driving maul was collapsed and sent culprit Grant Stewart to the sin bin.
Not that the Warriors let their numerical disadvantage get to them. In fact, the home side hit straight back with a try of their own on 61 minutes. Powerful carries from Kiran McDonald and Tim Swinson saw Glasgow thunder their way towards the line, before slick hands from Paddy Kelly and Thomson saw Glenn Bryce cross untouched. Thomson added the extras, and Glasgow had a 31-26 lead.
Back came Ulster once more, with the game well and truly feeling like a pre-season encounter. After an initial drive was repelled well by the Warriors pack inside their own 22, the home side’s defence was split by Matt Faddes, who offloaded to James Hume for the score. Replacement fly-half Bill Johnstone made no mistake with the conversion, handing his side a two-point lead as the game headed into the final 10 minutes.
The stage was set, then, for Nicol’s late intervention. Wave after wave of pressure in Ulster territory was finally turned into points with two minutes to play, as the replacement prop rumbled over the line as part of an unstoppable rolling maul. Gavin Lowe’s missed conversion gave the Warrior Nation a few nervous moments, but with Kelly rising highest to claim the restart and Jamie Dobie booting the ball into the main stand, the win was secured.