GLASGOW’s hopes of a top-three finish in PRO14 Conference A were dealt a blow last night as they had to make do with a losing bonus point against Ulster. Aki Seiuli got the Warriors’ only try at Scotstoun, converted by Ross Thompson, and earlier Adam Hastings had marked his return from injury with two penalties, but the visitors had a far better cutting edge. 

Danny Wilson’s side defended well for the vast majority of the contest, but shot themselves in the foot with some momentary lapses, and as the head coach said afterwards, in tight games minor errors can have a major impact on the outcome. But the head coach was also relatively pleased with a lot of what he saw from his team, especially bearing in mind how little rugby they have played over the past three months.  

“It was an improvement,” he said. “The last time we played Ulster we had 40 points shoved on us and weren’t even close to being competitive. Granted it’s different personnel, but I thought we were extremely competitive tonight. Tight games come down to big moments and a couple of big moments cost us.

“But the attitude was outstanding from the boys. I thought we played some good rugby and defended well at times. The one thing we need to improve on is control at the breakdown. That’s something we’ll have to work at.”

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Hastings stayed on for just over an hour, and the question now is whether that will be deemed enough to merit a return to the Scotland squad. “I thought he did really well, to be fair,” Wilson said of the stand-off, who had been out of action since injuring a shoulder in late October. “He’s had a long time out of the game and hasn’t had a chance to do much contact in training sessions apart from what we need to get him right for the game. 

“So I thought he was pretty good on the whole. He was physical and there was a lot of good in his game management.” 

Asked if he expected to have Hastings available next week against Leinster, Wilson added: “That will be Gregor Townsend’s decision. I hope so in one way, but in the other it would be great to see him back playing for Scotland as well. 

“Gregor, everybody I think, would like him to get a few more games under his belt. But we know what a quality player he is and Gregor might deem it relevant to bring him straight back into the squad with them and go from there.” 

It was Hastings who opened the scoring with just five minutes left in the first half, but by then Ulster had come perilously close to claiming a try when Marcell Coetzee crossed at the end of a lineout maul. There was no evidence of a grounding, however, and, after a consultation with the TMO, referee Ben Blain’s ruling was no try.

The actual opening score came after an excellent break up the left touchline by Jamie Dobie set up good position for the Warriors, then moments later Robbie Fergusson gained further ground on the right. Gray took it on, Eric O’Sullivan was penalised for not rolling away after the tackle, and Hastings was on target with the kick. 

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Those three points looked like being the only ones of the half, but in the final few seconds an inspired counter-attack by Ulster, begun after a Dobie pass was intercepted, ended in full-back Michael Lowry going over from a John Cooney pass. Cooney added the conversion to make it 3-7 for the visitors at the break, though an injury which ended Coetzee’s involvement dampened their enthusiasm as they came off the pitch.

Ten minutes into the second half, another long-range penalty by Hastings reduced the deficit to a single point. Ulster’s response was immediate, but after heavy pressure their chance of a second try ended when Gilroy knocked on as he attempted to ground in the right corner while being tackled by Huw Jones and Ratu Tagive.

Gilroy was not to be denied a second time, however, and after 56 minutes had a simple score in the same corner. The initial break came from Ian Madigan then was taken on by the forwards before the same Cooney-Lowry combination that had produced the first try came up with the goods for Gilroy. Cooney’s conversion attempt was wide, but at 6-12 the momentum had swung back in Ulster’s favour. 

Going into the final quarter they were initially denied a third try from open play by some defiant Warriors defence, but then Madigan sent a penalty to touch and the maul did the rest, with Nick Timoney being credited with the score. Cooney was on target this time, and the game was gone for Glasgow.

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James Scott came on for his debut as a replacement for the injured Wilson, and the home side tried to up the tempo, but unforced errors were again their undoing. 

Then just as the match was petering out, Ulster replacement scrum-half Alby Mathewson was sinbinned five minutes from time for a deliberate knock-on. Another penalty was tapped by Grant Stewart, and Seiuli bulldozed his way over to score. Thompson converted to make it 13-19, and that opened up the prospect of an improbable late recovery. But the 14 men held firm for a deserved win which keeps them just within touching distance of Leinster at the top of the conference. 

Glasgow: Try: Seiuli. Con: Thompson. Pens: Hastings 2.
Ulster: Tries: Lowry, Gilroy, Timoney. Cons: Cooney 2.

Glasgow Warriors: H Jones; R Tagive, R Fergusson, S Johnson, R McLean; A Hastings (R Thompson 64), J Dobie (S Kennedy 69); O Kebble (A Seiuli 61), J Matthews (G Stewart 41), E Pieretto (D Rae 71), R Gray, L Nakarawa (T Ioane 57), R Harley, T Gordon, R Wilson (captain) (J Scott 63). Unused substitute: O Smith.

Ulster: M Lowry, C Gilroy (M Faddes 72), J Hume, S McCloskey, R Lyttle, I Madigan, J Cooney (A Mathewson 69); E O’Sullivan (A Warwick 51), J Andrew (A McBurney 51), M Moore (T O’Toole 47), A O’Connor, K Treadwell (C Izuchukwu 58), N Timoney, J Murphy (captain), M Coetzee (G Jones 41). Unused substitute: S Moore.

Yellow card: Ulster: Mathewson 74.

Referee: B Blain (Scotland).