Glasgow Warriors continued their sterling start to the PRO12 season with a fourth straight win, 39-21 over Connacht at Scotstoun.
A brace from Stuart Hogg, and tries from Henry Pyrgos, DTH van der Merwe and Mark Bennett ensured the hosts backed up victories over Leinster, Cardiff Blues and the Dragons to remain unbeaten, while the Irishmen succumbed to their first defeat of the new campaign.
Connacht, employing a more expansive style of rugby under Pat Lam, looked dangerous in attack throughout, with a fast, offloading game causing Glasgow problems – naivety in the ‘red zone’ proved their undoing on more than one occasion.
It will be of great encouragement to the former Samoa international that his team, minus the influential trio of Kieran Marmion, Niyi Adeolokun and Willie Falloon acquitted themselves so well against an experienced Warriors outfit – they are the first to put three tries past Gregor Townsend’s men this season.
Glasgow welcomed back skipper Al Kellock and openside Chris Fusaro, while centre James Downey made his competitive debut at 12. They enjoyed the bulk of possession and territory, and their greater ruthlessness paid dividends in contrast with their youthful adversaries.
The Warriors almost capitalised on an early spell of dominance through centre Bennett, whose arcing run for the corner was halted at the whitewash, the ball held up by brilliant Connacht defence.
But the resultant spree of scrummages drew penalties and heaped pressure on the visitors. From a blindside move off number eight Adam Ashe, Hogg – with van der Merwe on hand – scampered for the line, stepping past Danie Poolman to slide over.
Duncan Weir converted from wide on the left, but the Irishmen were unlucky not to hit back immediately, as Weir’s opposite number Jack Carty scythed through the Glasgow midfield; it was Sean Lamont’s interception that saved the day.
But as the wind carried Hogg’s clearance some sixty metres downfield and over the dead ball line, Connacht found themselves with a prime spot of real estate deep in home territory. Carty’s deft grubber caused havoc in the Warriors 22, and centre Dave McSharry scooped up the ball to fight his way to the line.
Marmion’s replacement, Ian Porter, landed a super conversion against the Scotstoun gusts, and fired another warning shot across Glasgow’s bow from the kick-off with a thirty-metre snipe from the breakdown.
Weir slotted a routine penalty to edge the home side ahead again on the half-hour mark, before making his gravest error of the game in running headlong into giant tighthead, Rodney Ah You; cue grimaces all-round.
It was Connacht who really shot themselves in the foot as half-time approached, however. Darragh Leader dallied on a clearance inside his own 22, allowing Pyrgos to charge him down and dive on the bobbling ball to give Glasgow a ten-point lead with his pivot’s conversion.
The sharp duo of Porter and Carty continued to keep the Warriors on their toes, as Lam’s charges finished the half in possession, but failed to breach the home defence.
The second forty began in much the same way as the first, Glasgow forcing their way forward with carries from van der Merwe and Tim Swinson. It was from there that they scored the pick of the bunch, a looping pass from Hogg finding Downey in space on the right touchline.
He offloaded to Bennett, who drew the cover defence and under huge pressure, freed an arm to put the supporting full-back away untouched.
Weir failed with the conversion, but with the Warriors chasing a bonus point 22-7 to the good, Connacht had to hit back fast to stay in the game.
They duly did. Leader redeemed himself with a great finish at the corner flag from Carty’s floated pass, and Porter was on-target from the tee again.
Glasgow would soon have their bonus though; van der Merwe carved through a gaping hole in the visitors’ midfield to open his account for the season under the posts, and hand Weir a simple two-pointer.
But Connacht’s endeavour never wavered. With Euan Murray’s departure, the home scrum deteriorated markedly, and it was no surprise to see referee Claudio Blessano jog under the posts, arm raised as the set-piece rumbled its way to the whitewash, Porter converting.
Weir doused any hopes of a late comeback with a penalty in the final ten minutes, before Bennett collected a wayward pass from former Glasgow second-row Aly Muldowney to race seventy metres for a fifth, converted by the fly-half.
Five tries and five more points on the board for title-hunting Glasgow then, and perhaps most significantly of all, an attendance figure nearly 2000 higher than that recorded on Connacht’s last visit to Scotstoun.
Tries: Hogg 2, Pyrgos, van der Merwe, Bennett
Conversions: Weir 4
Penalties: Weir 20
Tries: McSharry, Leader, Penalty
Conversions: Porter 3
Glasgow: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Lamont, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 James Downey, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Adam Ashe, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Al Kellock (capt), 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Pat MacArthur, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Kevin Bryce, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Rossouw de Klerk, 19 Tom Ryder, 20 James Eddie, 21 Murray McConnell, 22 Finn Russell, 23 Tommy Seymour.
Connacht: 15 Darragh Leader, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Ian Porter, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Eoin McKeon, 6 John Muldoon (capt), 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Nathan White, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Mick Kearney, 21 John Cooney, 22 Craig Ronaldson, 23 Fionn Carr.
Referee: Claudio Blessano