Ulster come up short as Warriors' fighting spirit seals win
Ulster 7 Glasgow 30
If last week's quarter-final loss to Leinster was a reverse from which Ulster felt they could still glean some momentum moving forward, last night's 30-7 defeat to Glasgow in Scotstoun was one to quickly try to forget.
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The home of the Warriors has rarely been a happy hunting ground for the province and they gave themselves little chance of bucking that trend this time.
Untidy in the ruck, profligate at the line-out and heavily penalised in the scrum, few teams are capable of overcoming three such sizeable obstacles to win a game and Ulster rarely threatened to do so.
Throw in two try-saving tackles by former Ulster player Tommy Seymour, who bagged a score himself for good measure, and a huge shift in momentum just before half-time when Glasgow scored off the counter and it all added up to a less than pleasing return to Scotstoun for coach Dan McFarland.
There were natural concerns as to how Ulster would respond to such jarring heartbreak just six days prior but their start had actually augured well.
Playing high tempo, ambitious rugby, especially when Burns coaxed his receivers flat to the gainline, it was the visitors who made the early running.
With the only blot on the first page of the copybook a turned over lineout, they had Glasgow scrambling early, forcing the Warriors into a number of quick-fire penalty concessions.
Indeed, when Michael Lowry scampered up the touchline it was a high tackle on Ulster's diminutive full-back that allowed them to go to the corner.
Rob Herring has been prolific this season, and Ulster's maul a real weapon, so it was no surprise when the hooker hit Kieran Treadwell in the lineout and had the ball fed back to him at the tail. His seventh try of the campaign was the predictable result with John Cooney nailing the conversion. That was as good as it would get for Ulster.
As Ulster continued to push the tempo, turnovers were always a danger and it was from one such change of possession that Glasgow drew level.
With a sizeable wind at their backs, a lengthy boot upfield from Stuart Hogg off broken play had Ulster rushing back to defend and, while Eric O'Sullivan got there, he was pinged for holding on. Having watched his opposite number rumble over only minutes prior, Fraser Brown responded in kind of a maul that, while hardly textbook, yielded the same seven points as Ulster's.
And having converted that score, it was Adam Hastings who went over himself just a few minutes later, giving his side a 12-7 lead with a quarter gone.
Still playing plenty of rugby, whether advised or not, some slick interplay off first phase scrum ball saw Ulster make some 50 metres in a matter of seconds but, such were the danger of such tactics, a knock-on and scrum penalty meant it was another three points for Glasgow just as quickly. With Jonny Gray making mincemeat of their lineout, it was a struggle to get much of a foothold, although they had a real chance at the end of the half that came to nothing when Cooney knocked on gathering from the ruck.
The resulting scrum produced a second penalty at the set-piece and produced a huge momentum swing when a patient Glasgow attack rolled through 17 phases before Hogg and Seymour worked a two-on-one for the latter to score in the corner.
Instead of trailing by just a point at half-time, Ulster were down 20-7.
With the wind at their backs in the second-half, the conditions were still working against Ulster, taking Stuart McCloskey's clearing kick over the dead ball line and giving Glasgow a scrum in opposition territory. Ulster didn't see the ball again until Zander Fagerson was crossing their line to secure the four-try bonus.
For the second week running, Ulster left one behind them, this time Luke Marshall having the ball knocked from his grasp by Seymour as he crossed the line.
The game was long gone by the time the Lions wing repeated the trick to deny Rob Lyttle, by which stage McFarland had already seemed to be wrapping key men in cotton wool for the challenges ahead.
Benetton, who sit four points behind Ulster, take on Leinster this evening, before which Edinburgh will travel to Scarlets.
How those games go will clear a somewhat murky play-off picture but no matter what, Ulster know there is still work to be done to nail down their spot in the all-important top three.
ULSTER: M Lowry; R Lyttle, L Marshall, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; B Burns, J Cooney; E O'Sullivan, R Herring, M Moore; A O'Connor (Capt), K Treadwell; S Reidy, J Murphy, M Coetzee.
Replacements: J Andrew (for Herring, 45), A Warwick (for O'Sullivan, 45), T O'Toole (for Moore, 62), I Nagle (for Treadwell, 52), M Rea (for Coetzee, 66), D Shanahan (for Burns, 60), D Cave (for McCloskey, 56), A Kernohan (for Lowry, 20)
GLASGOW: S Hogg, T Seymour, K Steyn, S Johnson; N Matawalu; A Hastings, A Price; O Kebble, F Brown, Z Fagerson; R Harley, J Gray; A Ashe, C Fusaro, M Fagerson.
Replacements: G Stewart (for Brown, 65), J Bhatti (for Kebble, 32), S Halanukonuka (for Z Fagerson, 65), S Cummings (for Ashe, 60), T Tameilau (for Fusaro, 65), G Horne (for Price, 62), P Horne (for Hastings, 60), R Nairn.
Referee: S Berry
Man of the Match: J Gray.