Glasgow 39 Connacht 21: The verdict
Glasgow 39 Connacht 21: Gareth Llewellyn-Stevens gives his verdict on Friday night's win
Glasgow Warriors maintained their 100 per cent winning start to the Guinness PRO12 with a hard-fought 39-21 win over Connacht at Scotstoun Stadium on Friday night, running in five tries in the process to go top of the table.
How good were the Warriors?
Electric, but we’ve come to expect that. Even gusty conditions at Scotstoun couldn’t derail the relentless Warriors attack. It doesn’t seem to matter which seven backs Gregor Townsend selects, they all turn up with competition for places as fierce as ever.
A frustration for Townsend last season was the lack of bonus points accrued after picking up three tries with time to play. In four matches this season, they’ve become more ruthless – grabbing the bonus point in their last two outings, which could make all the difference in May as clubs jostle for home advantage in the play-offs. Had they picked up more bonus points last season they would have finished top and had a home final.
Full-back Stuart Hogg showed his running ability to grab a brace of tries, man of the match scrum-half Henry Pyrgos again showed why he is the best scrum-half in Scotland and record try-scorer DTH van der Merwe was back among the tries to the delight of the home crowd.
There were notable big shifts from the forwards too with Adam Ashe revelling in his first competitive start, linking well with Pyrgos to bring the backs into play and throwing his body into tackles. Gordon Reid again showed why he was one of the best ball-carrying props in the league, while Al Kellock and Tom Ryder were solid on their welcome return to the Warriors engine room.
After four wins from four, can Glasgow Warriors really win the PRO12?
Absolutely. Just like the back end of last season, they are the team to beat, and they’ll be expected to notch another bonus-point win at the league’s whipping boys Benetton Treviso next week. They defeated a much stronger Treviso outfit 29-10 and 38-16 just five months ago.
Leinster may remain outright favourites with the bookmakers and many fans, but they appear to have lost their edge this season with defeats on the road in Glasgow and Galway, while Cardiff Blues pushed them close on Friday.
There will be much tougher tests for the Warriors, not least a November trip to the Scarlets during the autumn internationals and Munster during the Six Nations and Leinster immediately after, but their strength in depth is unrivalled in the PRO12. If they can survive these tricky periods, a top two place should be assured as their target remains to finish top.
Marmion has been an important player for Connacht. Why was he not in the team?
The official line is that he has played almost 60 games over the last two seasons and is being game managed after a spell with the Ireland camp earlier in the week.
It may seem strange to rest players just four games into the season, but it is a tactic regular deployed by the Irish and Scottish unions and more recently the Welsh Rugby Union with Wales captain Sam Warburton now limited to just 16 games for the Blues.
At 22, Marmion has a lot of rugby left in him at club and international level, but Connacht also have an able deputy in Ian Porter, signed this summer from Ulster.
Even for big away trips like this one, it often makes more sense to rest a player than potentially aggravate a minor injury, and Porter was Connacht’s stand-out player, while Lanarkshire-born John Cooney – on loan from Leinster – looked a solid deputy when he came on for his first appearance late in the second half.
What did Connacht head coach Lam make of the defeat?
A mixture of pride and disappointment. Young scrum-half Ian Porter impressed as did his replacement John Cooney on his first start, but Lam was critical of his team’s defence at times and the lack of a TMO.
Connacht allowed 21 points through errors: an intercept, a charge down, and were done by a forward pass. The pass was out of their control – the touch judge thought it was good. Video evidence should have proved otherwise. The other two were errors of judgement.
Despite that, Lam praised the courage and heart of his young team for their fight and was convinced it was a match they could have won if they’d taken their chances.
Why was there no TMO?
Simple. It was the only match not to be picked up for TV this weekend, despite it being a “top of the table” clash.
The thinking from the numerous PRO12 broadcasters was probably that it wouldn’t be a great game compared to Edinburgh vs Scarlets, which was on BBC ALBA, while Irish broadcaster TG4 went with Leinster vs Cardiff Blues and Sky Sports opted for Munster vs Ospreys on Saturday.
There is absolutely no reason why a non-televised match should not have a TMO. Most clubs now have permanent or temporary big screens at their stadium and, with the increased TV revenue from Sky’s arrival, the league organisers should mandate that all clubs have both a big screen for every match and a TMO is in place to protect the integrity of the competition.
How do the Warriors keep winning despite rotating their team so much?
This isn’t an easy area to pin down, but the sheer competition for places means that nobody is guaranteed a place in the match-day 23. When players get a chance they are keen to impress individually and collectively, whether they are EDP players or seasoned pros. It drives effort and standards up in training and on the field, and protects against complacency.
Some fans may want to see their favourites every week, but that just isn’t going to happen here even if they are fit.
Townsend has made numerous big selection calls, which may confound, but they rarely go wrong. It also keeps opponents guessing. Some teams are easy to pick, but not the Warriors.
How do Connacht bounce back?
With Pat Lam in charge it shouldn’t be too difficult. They don’t need to change much. Losing to the Warriors, even with a 39-21 scoreline, is not necessarily a bad result, although they do need to be more clinical in attack.
Their next outing is at home in Galway against a Blues side still in transition and without a win in their last three matches, shipping 125 points and 12 tries – only Edinburgh and the two Italian teams have conceded more.
Connacht can take heart from their brilliant start of the season. In February, when they last faced the Warriors, they were bottom of the table and slowly turned it around to briefly flirt with a top six finish. Now, they need to keep up the momentum they’ve already built.