Belfast Telegraph

Ulster's path to PRO12 glory clear after defeat to Glasgow

Glasgow 32-10 Ulster

By Michael Sadlier

At least now there are no head-wrecking permutations to ponder. Yes, all that's gone and Ulster now have a return trip to Glasgow for what is a straight shoot-out on Friday night with that hugely motivating prize of a Kingspan final beckoning for the winner.

And though the scale of the defeat was rather disappointing, as was the granting of the bonus point to allow the Warriors to top the pile for the final placings - on the basis that Glasgow had acquired an extra win to Munster, who also finished up on 75 points - it was by no means the worst outcome in terms of the semi-final situation.

Ulster already knew they were in line for another road trip for their play-off and so it came to pass.

But they have also managed to add some value to the occasion by getting a worthwhile run-out under their belts against Glasgow and by fielding a side which shouldn't bear too much resemblance to the one which still caused the Scots quite a few problems for 50 minutes.

One of the obvious downsides is that a travelling team has yet to come away victorious at the play-off stages and Glasgow possess a bullet-proof home record in the PRO12.

And that's not all as there are concerns over second row Franco van der Merwe's fitness after he limped away from Scotstoun on crutches on Saturday while prop Wiehahn Herbst's toe injury - he was one of seven players with knocks who didn't play at the weekend - is rumoured to be a bit of an issue for the semi-final.

Even so, Doak was still sounding reasonably upbeat about what had panned out.

"We'll be looking forward to getting back here on Friday," said Doak, who will be hoping to deploy as many of his big guns as possible for the return game.

"We'll have a few bodies coming back, but we know we can't stand off them and know we have to stay in their faces (a lot) more.

"Towards the back end of that game we did stand off them and allowed them to get their off-loading game (going) and get a bit of tempo going," he added, referring to what had taken place at a wind-battered and occasionally rain-lashed Scotstoun on Saturday.

"We would have liked a home semi-final but it wasn't to be.

"But we know that if we can take every opportunity we can beat any team on the day," he said. "It's just now about who can handle the pressure and who can take their chances on the day."

All scoring chances will definitely need to be taken which wasn't the case on Saturday afternoon when Glasgow won the toss and opted to play into the gale.

The Warriors struggled with it - having Jonny Gray binned didn't help either - and Ulster's unfamiliar-looking line-up managed to get a decent foothold in the game only to miss out on opportunities to open up a better lead than the 10-6 margin they had constructed by half-time.

It never looked enough but only after Stuart Hogg had finally won himself some space to chip, collect and score did the momentum noticeably shift the home side's way.

And once Finn Russell had scored the first of his brace shortly afterwards, what ultimately proved to be a power surge of 26 unanswered points - Ulster failed to register at all into the conditions - was well under way.

"I thought we were pretty competitive for 50-odd minutes and if we'd looked after the ball a bit better a couple of times then we could have put Glasgow under a little bit more stress," said Doak.

"Conditions were difficult but it is a disappointing result to concede 32 points," he added while also referring to Andrew Warwick's 63rd minute yellow card as having a detrimental impact on his side's rearguard action.

Not even the introduction of pretty much all of the big-name bench was any real help in stemming the tide with Iain Henderson showing up to decent enough effect early on and Tommy Bowe even having a short stint at number eight.

Paul Marshall looked sharp and eager as did Robbie Diack while Chris Henry got over for Ulster's try from a decent lineout maul.

Teenager Sam Arnold, making his senior debut at centre, did all that really could have been expected of him on such a tricky occasion while prop Ricky Lutton also soldiered away on a rare outing for him.

After posing Glasgow some problems to take that 10-6 lead into the break, Ulster fell away badly after Hogg's 53rd minute score.

Russell then quickly bagged a brace with Richie Vernon taking the sought-after bonus try in the 72nd minute with man of the match Russell converting all three of his efforts.

Relief then for Glasgow, but now they will have to deal with what will hopefully be a fully loaded Ulster side on Friday evening. It's game on now.

GLASGOW: S Hogg; T Seymour, R Vernon, P Horne, S Lamont; F Russell, N Matawalu; R Grant, D Hall, R De Klerk; J Gray, A Kellock (c); J Strauss, C Fusaro, A Ashe.

Replacements: R Wilson for Fusaro (17-28 mins and 52 mins), P MacArthur for Hall, G Reid for Grant, M Cusack for de Klerk, H Pyrgos for Matawalu (all 52 mins), L Nakarawa for Kellock (60 mins), P Murchie for Hogg (73 mins), D Weir for Horne (74 mins). Yellow: Gray (27 mins).

ULSTER: L Ludik; R Scholes, S Arnold, S McCloskey, M Allen; I Humphreys, P Marshall; A Warwick, R Herring, R Lutton; L Stevenson, F Van der Merwe; C Ross, C Henry (c), R Diack.

Replacements: T Bowe for Allen (10-19 mins) and for McCloskey (63 mins), I Henderson for Van der Merwe (19 mins), P Jackson for Humphreys (49-55 mins & 60 mins), B Ross for R Lutton (60 mins), K McCall for Henderson (65 mins), R Pienaar for Arnold (73 mins). Yellow: Warwick (63 mins)

Referee: I Davies (WRU)

Man of the match: F Russell

Match rating: 6/10

Belfast Telegraph

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