Glasgow Warriors were the architects of their own downfall at Ravenhill on the opening night of the RaboDirect PRO12 season as a number of basic errors and a high penalty count undermined what was otherwise a tenacious and persistent performance against 2012 Heineken Cup finalists Ulster.
As is typical of this side, the Warriors hung in to the very last, forcing a tense finale to the game courtesy of a cracking Tommy Seymour try 12 minutes from time.
This effort and courage in one of Europe's most challenging arenas, alas, was punctured by indiscipline, especially around the breakdown, and Glasgow's own shortcomings in this regard left them with just too much to do.
Head coach Gregor Townsend's troops know they will need to be tighter in a number of areas when they begin life at Scotstoun Stadium against Scarlets next Friday night, but they can at least take forward a good number of building blocks from this performance as they strive for overall improvement.
As was to be expected, the match was relentlessly attritional, both packs looking to assert themselves and set up a platform for the creative talents further back.
Glasgow enjoyed decent amounts of possession without making any real dents, and it was Ulster who notched the first points of the night when Niall O’Connor slotted over a straightforward penalty awarded for the Warriors going in at the side.
It was O’Connor’s first touch of the ball after coming on as a substitute for regular Ulster kicker Paddy Jackson, who moments before have limped from the fray with an injury.
The game continued to be very much a forward-dominated affair, both back rows putting in a power of work, not least in the absorbing clashes between Warriors’ specialist tree-chopper Chris Fusaro and the bullocking Ulster No.8 Nick Williams.
Glasgow leveled things up as the first quarter came to end, Duncan Weir given an easy kick right in front of the posts after the visitors got the drive on at a lineout and Ulster were forced to infringe.
The hosts came roaring back, immediately drawing a penalty of their own and really turning up the heat with a punishing charge from Williams. As Ravenhill rose to its feet, there was respite for the Warriors when Ulster knocked on right on the fringes of the Scottish line.
The reprieve was short lived, however, as the Belfast men came again and won another penalty for Glasgow going offside. O’Connor’s radar misfired, though, and the ball smacked back off a post.
The replacement was soon presented with an opportunity to make amends as the hard-pressed Warriors infringed again, this time slightly to the right of centre. O’Connor again couldn’t take advantage, and Glasgow breathed afresh.
While they were defending with typical bravery and awareness, Townsend’s men just couldn’t get out of their own territory as the half drew closer to its close.
The penalty count continued to go against them too, and there was little surprise when referee Marius Mitrea eventually lost patience and had Seymour pay the price for the Warriors’ collective sins with a yellow card after the one-time Ulster player pulled down a maul.
Minutes previously, the visitors had suffered another blow when captain Al Kellock was forced from the field with a suspected dead leg, replaced by James Eddie in the second row.
Two minutes before half-time, Ulster finally reaped rewards for their dominance. Exploiting their man advantage, the home side created an overlap on the wing that Seymour would otherwise have been defending, and Michael Allen had the simple task of cantering across the whitewash.
The Warriors did close the half on the front foot, courtesy of a neat burst from Ryan Wilson that set up Duncan Weir for a drop-goal attempt that wasn’t quite accurate enough.
Glasgow made a couple of changes at the interval, Ryan Grant replacing Gordon Reid at loose-head and Chris Cusiter taking over in the scrum-half berth from Henry Pyrgos.
The Warriors enjoyed their best passage of play in some time during this immediate post-interval period, Cusiter underlining his class with a beautiful sniping break, but disaster struck when Weir’s midfield pass was picked off by Craig Gilroy.
The backfield was absolutely clear for the Ulster winger to canter into, and O’Connor’s conversion gave Ulster a 15-3 lead.
The game entered a lull in the third quarter, with neither team establishing much in the way of momentum.
The Warriors introduced John Barclay at openside and Ruaridh Jackson at stand-off in an effort to make more headway, and Glasgow did begin to enjoy a better time of it in the contact area.
They won a couple of penalties in quick succession around the hour mark, Jackson going for goal with the second of them from way out on the left touchline.
Frustratingly, the ball careered back off a post and Barclay couldn’t quit gather possession as he looked to nip in for an opportunist try.
The momentum was definitely shifting, though, and Glasgow hauled themselves right back into contention with Seymour's dramatic score.
Moving the ball at pace, the Warriors put Ulster on the back foot, and when Jackson fired a perceptive pass out to Seymour on the right, the winger embarked on an explosive run that left the cover for dead and saw him cross in the corner.
Jackson’s expert conversion put the Warriors within five points of their hosts, and they pushed hard in the closing minutes, before conceding another avoidable penalty that O’Connor nudged between the sticks to deny them even the consolation of a losing bonus point.
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne; 14 Mike Allen, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Craig Gilroy; 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Michael Heaney; 1 Callum Black, 2 Rob Herring, 3 John Afoa, 4 Johann Muller (CAPTAIN), 5 Lewis Stevenson, 6 Robbie Diack, 7 Sean Doyle, 8 Nick Williams.
Substitutes: 16 Nigel Brady, 17 Tom Court, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Neil McComb, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Niall O'Connor, 23 Darren Cave.
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Peter Murchie; 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Graeme Morrison, 11 Sean Lamont; 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Henry Pyrgos; 1 Gordon Reid, 2 Finlay Gillies, 3 Mike Cusack, 4 Tom Ryder, 5 Al Kellock (CAPTAIN), 6 Rob Harley, 7 Chris Fusaro, 8 Ryan Wilson
Substitutes: 16 Dougie Hall, 17 Moray Low, 18 Ryan Grant, 19 James Eddie, 20 John Barclay, 21 Chris Cusiter, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Peter Horne
Referee: M Mitrea (FIR)
|5||Neath Swansea Ospreys||22||14||7||1||62|
|11||Newport Gwent Dragons||22||6||16||0||28|
|12||Zebre Rugby *||22||0||22||0||7|
* A points deduction has been applied.
|Connacht Rugby||3||v||20||Glasgow Warriors|
|Edinburgh Rugby||31||v||24||Newport Gwent Dragons|
|Leinster Rugby||37||v||19||Neath Swansea Ospreys|
|Ulster Rugby||37||v||13||Cardiff Blues|
|Llanelli Scarlets||17||v||41||Benetton Treviso|