Glasgow & Scarlets - Route to the PRO14 Semi-Final
Two of the Guinness PRO14’s most entertaining sides go head-to-head tomorrow night for the right to play in the Final, as Glasgow Warriors and Scarlets face off in the Guinness PRO14 Semi-Final at Scotstoun Stadium (kick-off 7.45pm).
Both teams have enjoyed memorable campaigns to date, but will be looking to ensure that their season doesn’t end when the final whistle blows tomorrow. Here’s how both sides reached this stage.
After missing out on the play-offs in 2016/17, Glasgow Warriors saw a period of transition over the summer, as former Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie took charge at Scotstoun.
There were also a host of new faces to welcome to Glasgow such as Huw Jones and Callum Gibbins, whilst fan favourites including Ruaridh Jackson and Niko Matawalu were also given a rousing reception as they returned to their former club.
The Rennie era began in earnest with an away trip to Connacht in the opening match of the season, a fixture best remembered for the torrential rain that accompanied kick-off. That was to prove no obstacle to the Warriors, however, as supporters were given an early indication as to the brand of rugby to which they were to become accustomed, with Ali Price and Lee Jones both crossing for well-worked team tries in an 18-12 victory.
That result was to spark a stunning unbeaten run in the Guinness PRO14, with Rennie’s men victorious in each of their opening ten matches in the competition. A comprehensive 37-10 victory over Munster delighted the crowd at Scotstoun, whilst a first visit to South Africa resulted in an entertaining 29-26 win over the Toyota Cheetahs.
The Warrior Nation were kept in raptures throughout the season, with their team making a habit of scoring spectacular tries at Scotstoun. None were greeted with more delirious scenes in the PRO14 than their fourth try against Leinster in a 31-21 victory, where – given the ball by Jackson behind his own try-line – Matawalu raced his way up the pitch, beating defender after defender before handing the ball off to Nick Grigg for the simplest of finishes in a truly mesmeric score.
The unbeaten run came to an end against Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield just before Christmas, yet there was to be no let-up from the Scotstoun side. A 17-0 win over their cross-country rivals was the perfect response, and the Warriors secured a Final Series place in early February with a 37-23 home win over the Toyota Cheetahs.
That wasn’t enough for the Warriors, however, who were content with nothing less than a home Semi-Final. Their goal was achieved in the final home fixture of the regular season, with three first-half tries sending them on their way to a 35-22 win over Connacht, and setting the foundations in place for tonight’s titanic clash with Scarlets.
Fresh from their victory over Munster in last season’s Final, Scarlets immediately set their sights on defending their title in 2017/18.
With a settled squad, the off-season was one of shrewd recruitment for head coach Wayne Pivac. Metronomic goal-kicker Leigh Halfpenny joined from Toulon, whilst fellow back-three players Paul Asquith and Tom Prydie also arrived at Parc y Scarlets.
The Welsh side began their title defence in impressive fashion, with a dominant 57-10 win over the Southern Kings in front of their home supporters. The men in red ran in eight tries in a comfortable display, including a brace from Johnny McNicholl.
However, whilst known as one of the league’s most attacking sides, the Scarlets are more than capable of grinding out a win when required, such as their 19-18 victory over the Ospreys. Whilst scoring three tries in the process, it was the defensive fortitude of Pivac’s men that earned the victory, an aspect of their game often overlooked.
The Scarlets are also in full possession of national bragging rights, having enjoyed an unbeaten season against their fellow Welshmen. A 33-8 victory over the Dragons in the final round of the regular season rubber-stamped their place in the Final Series, with Tadhg Beirne scoring two of his side’s four tries.
It is in Europe, though, that the Scarlets have arguably impressed the most in 2017/18. The club reached their first European Semi-Final in 11 years, topping their pool before beating French outfit La Rochelle in an impressive Quarter-Final display. Only eventual champions Leinster could stop the Welsh side, in a campaign filled with positives for the men in red.
Their Final Series to date has been one of relative comfort, having booked their place in Friday’s Semi-Final with a comprehensive 43-8 win over the Toyota Cheetahs at Parc y Scarlets. Six tries, including a double from Steff Evans, saw Pivac’s men book their trip to Scotstoun in style, setting up what has the hallmarks of a classic encounter.