Scarlets 17-35 Glasgow Warriors
Glasgow Warriors created club history in Llanelli this evening, as a 35-17 victory over the Scarlets booked their place in the EPCR Challenge Cup Final.
Stafford McDowall’s brace, coupled with tries from George Horne, Rory Darge and Johnny Matthews, and a Player of the Match-winning performance from Jack Dempsey spearheaded a full squad effort at Parc y Scarlets, as Franco Smith’s men came from behind to earn their place in the showpiece event on Friday 19 May.
In front of over 13,000 supporters on a glorious evening for rugby in Llanelli, it was the travelling chapter of the Warrior Nation that were roaring the loudest early on. A more perfect start to a match would have been hard to draw up for Glasgow supporters; the power of Sione Vailanu and Jack Dempsey’s line break took the Warriors from 22 to 22, before Sione Tuipulotu sent McDowall racing through a gap and past the final defender to dive over the whitewash. Horne would convert for a 7-0 lead, with barely three minutes on the clock.
Indeed it was the Warriors who were making most of the early inroads, with Dempsey in particular in rampaging form. Kyle Steyn and Tuipulotu would also test the Scarlets defence, as the visitors looked to keep the tempo high.
The Scarlets were in no mood to back down in front of their home supporters, though, as half-back duo Gareth Davies and Sam Costelow sought to direct the men in red around the field. The latter would get the hosts on the board on 24 minutes, knocking over a penalty from the 22 after Zander Fagerson was penalised for not rolling away.
A second penalty just four minutes later would narrow the deficit to a single point, before the home side struck to send themselves into the lead. The Glasgow defence would repel a series of short-range carries inside their own 22, but were powerless to prevent Johnny McNicholl from breaking around the back and sending Steff Evans over in the corner for the score. The conversion drifted wide, but the Scarlets led 11-7.
It was a lead the hosts would extend with the final kick of the half, as Costelow made no mistake with his third penalty of the half after Glasgow were penalised for hands in the ruck. The home supporters were in full voice as the half-time whistle sounded, the Scarlets leading 14-7.
Once again, though, the Warriors came out of the blocks firing. A near-solid four minutes of possession lasting over 20 phases would see carries from Vailanu and Dempsey take play into the Scarlets 22, before JP du Preez galloped through a hole and found Scott Cummings on his shoulder. The ever-present figure of Horne was there to take the scoring pass and dart over, converting his own try for good measure to level the scores at 14-14.
Costelow would re-establish the Scarlets’ lead on 46 minutes with his fourth penalty of the night, but with a man advantage after Sam Wainwright was shown a yellow card for a high tackle on Darge, the Warriors were on the hunt. Turning down a shot at goal on 49 minutes signalled the visitors’ intention, and a perfectly-executed rolling maul later it was Matthews who was celebrating his seventh try in the Challenge Cup this season. Horne added the extras, making it 21-17 to the men in black.
The next score was shaping up to be crucial, and the Warriors were in no mood for it to be scored by anyone other than a player in black. Another penalty dispatched to touch allowed the pack to go to work once more, Matthews and Dempsey each coming to within inches of the line. In the end it was Darge who would make the pivotal final carry, powering his way over under the sticks for a try that – allied to Horne’s conversion – took Glasgow’s lead to 28-17 with 58 minutes played.
With their Challenge Cup campaign on the line, the Scarlets now threw everything at the Warriors as the game entered the final quarter. Only a immense defensive effort from Darge and Horne would deny Ken Owens from crossing in the corner, roared to the rafters by the Warrior Nation.
If that effort was roared to the rafters, the next would nearly take the roof off. Ryan Conbeer’s dive for the corner was denied by Ollie Smith and Sebastian Cancelliere, the passion from the Warriors clear for all to see.
Instead, the final word with ball in hand would go to the Warriors. Having ridden the Scarlet storm, back-to-back penalties saw Smith’s men march into the home 22, the set-piece would once again prove decisive. Whilst the maul was stopped just short, McDowall would not be denied. Over went the centre for his second – and Glasgow’s fifth – try of the night, Horne’s conversion putting the cherry on top of an unforgettable cake.
The scenes that greeted the final whistle needed no extra caption. This was an evening that will go down in Glasgow rugby history, as a date in Dublin is pencilled into the diaries of each and every member of the Warrior Nation.