A notable statistic for the Warriors this season is their lack of tries with just 26 from 16 games – only the bottom five sides in the Pro12 have scored fewer. League leaders Leinster have 42 from 17, Munster 43 from 17, Ulster 34 from 17 and the Ospreys 47 from 17. It’s a marked change from last season when the Glasgow side led the league in tries scored with 66 from 22. It would take a miracle for them to get close to that this season and with four of their final six matches at home even that seem unlikely – the last time the Warriors scored three tries at home was last April as they ran out 35-17 winners against the Ospreys. Their attack remains as dangerous as ever on the counter, but Scotstoun Stadium has become a fortress this season aided by wind and occasional rain which inevitably arrive just in time for kick-off. The pitch was a problem through December and January which caused two matches to be postponed, but it has to be said that both the home and away defences seem to dominate in Glasgow’s west end. The last three home matches are case in point: just 57 points racked up and only three tries, all of which were scored by the home side. Of the Warriors seven home matches in the league this season, only two have seen more than 30 points – the opening day 22-15 win over the Cardiff Blues and October’s 8-23 defeat to the Dragons. It isn’t the most attractive rugby and certainly not one for the casual viewer, but it makes for close matches and inevitably a late Warriors win.
The Welsh region’s play-off hopes may have taken a massive dent, but there are a lot of positives to take from the Ospreys recent performances, including the defeat to the Warriors. The Scottish side are one point behind the Ospreys with two home games in hand and would expect to overtake them next weekend as Treviso visit Glasgow, but the Ospreys are undergoing a transition and can’t be disheartened if they finish outside the top four this season as they’re almost certain to qualify for the new European competition as the top Welsh side in the Pro12. With senior players injured, it has provided opportunities for outside-half/full-back Sam Davies (20), number 8 Dan Baker (21), wing Hanno Dirksen (22) and flanker Sam Lewis (23) to showcase their talent – all of whom could be Ospreys and Wales stars of the future. If there are negatives, they are common ones: ill-disciplined youngsters committing errors at the breakdown or making the wrong decisions in attack, but the experience of playing regularly in a tough league this early in their career will only help them develop which will be crucial for next season with the experience of Ryan Jones, Ian Evans and Richard Hibbard among the senior players moving on. It could be a second straight year that the Ospreys miss out on the play-offs, but for a region that has a proud record of winning the Celtic League four times in its history the disappointment of missing out again will only drive them to break back.
Gregor Townsend’s squad may be hit by injuries in the backs, but you can never write them off. The 11-9 win over the Ospreys was the sixth time in 16 league matches that they’ve come from behind at the break to win – that’s more than a third of their Pro12 matches to date this season. So often their try-scoring hero, Fijian flyer Niko Matawalu was again unpredictable as was his countryman Leone Nakawara who, despite being a lock forward, offloads for fun and revels in showcasing his Sevens skills when he gets the chance. Scotland wing Tommy Seymour was the hero for his late try, but Nakawara put in a man of the match performance and a case could be made for many of the forwards, including Rob Harley who put in another massive shift from the back row. Townsend has been keen at times this season to talk about every game being a squad effort and he certainly uses his as much as he can, again emptying the bench. It was another smash and grab effort of the highest order and the Warriors will count themselves unfortunate not to have added at least another try late as Finn Russell’s effort was ruled out by Scottish TMO Andrew McMenemy for a knock-on and offside while Matawalu charged down a last-gasp drop-goal effort from Dan Biggar and kick-chased the ball 60 metres, but was unable to ground the ball. There aren’t many clubs in the Pro12 with the wing threats that the Warriors possess and ‘the fastest man in rugby’ Carlin Isles must have been itching to get on the field as he watched his new team-mates put in several forward kicks. With Sean Maitland getting 24 minutes in the second half and Stuart Hogg set to return for the trip to Munster next month once his ban has ended, the Warriors are getting key players back at the right time to seal their play-off place.
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BIOGRAPHY: Eric Bailly