Tyrone Howe: Ulster’s warrior spirit required in the battles ahead
Supporters travelled across to Glasgow in expectation; real confidence that the team could register a vital away win, but genuine nervousness about the nature of the game and how difficult the Warriors could be to crack.
Our Scottish neighbours have always been an awkward opponent.
It definitely has something to do with the weather — Glasgow doesn’t do balmy. It may have something to do with the surroundings (certainly in the days of Firhill as a venue), and it has a lot to do with the sort of rugby that you expect when you take the pitch against Glasgow Warriors.
It is no surprise that their style is typically Scottish. But what does this actually mean? Well, it is always tough — they may not be the biggest men but they punch above their weight and have an uncompromising approach which means they throw themselves into contact.
They force you to ‘front up’, to bring your own physicality to the game, they give you little, and above all they are uber-competitive at the breakdown.
It is this latter part of the game where they excel — a key area where you must be technically efficient and also react to the instructions and interpretation of the referee.
If you cannot dominate the breakdown then quick ball is difficult, which makes quality rugby and the ability to break down a team that bit more challenging. As a result, invariably the action descends into a battle royal.
That is exactly what Glasgow Warriors wanted, ergo what Ulster supporters expected and feared, because it makes a win far from straightforward.
Of these three factors — weather, surroundings and style of rugby — the second has been sorted.
Scotstoun Stadium is situated amidst centres of sporting excellence and, unlike Firhill, has the feel of a rugby venue.
A measurement of success in professional rugby — ticket sales — suggest that the move is completely justified with a full house of over 6,000 in attendance.
Nonetheless, the other two factors combined to guarantee a game more akin to an arm wrestle.
Seconds before kick-off the heavens opened, which put paid to open running rugby and played to Glasgow’s strengths. There was nothing else for it but to roll up the sleeves and get ready for 80 minutes of attrition.
The biggest compliment to Ulster is that they got better and better as the game went on.
The match was made for the physical presence of Nick Williams but, after a quiet start, it was not until midway through the first half that he carried the ball.
This phase led to Ulster’s first points — and the formula became evident.
Get the big men on the ball, with Ruan Pienaar controlling field position, and play composed controlled rugby.
The muscles that Ulster flexed were bigger, they played territory and kept the pressure on.
To a large extent Ulster had Glasgow’s Peter Horne to thank for not making the gap any wider at half time, but ultimately it was a night for pragmatism and Ulster got the job done with a bit to spare.
The game itself was forgettable, but quality sides have to react and win under all sorts of circumstances. Under such weather conditions, I am sure that Mark Anscombe (below) would have bitten your hand off if you had told him prior to the game that an 11 point victory would be on the cards.
This was to be no try-fest like the games against Cardiff, Connacht or Castres, and yes, Glasgow’s own try took away some of the gloss.
However, the four points that Ulster gleaned away from home will be invaluable come the end of this pool.
While Glasgow are now effectively out of the competition, I have no doubt that they still have a major role to play in terms of deciding who tops this qualifying group.
Castres may struggle to get a win there, while mid January may see a return of many currently injured faces to the Glasgow starting XV and the Saints could come a cropper.
In all probability, someone will lose in Glasgow, but it is one hurdle that Ulster will be relieved to have overcome.
Job done, match won, points in the bank, two from two, top of the pool, well done.