Glasgow Warriors showing form of champions in Pro12

By Andy BurkeBBC Scotland at Parc y Scarlets
Pro12 highlights: Scarlets 10-46 Glasgow Warriors

Clinical. That was the word offered by most observers present at Parc y Scarlets to describe Glasgow Warriors' ruthless dismantling of a side who were the early-season pacesetters in the Pro12.

For years, Scottish rugby was defined by their teams' inability to convert possession, territory and glaring chances into points. How exhilarating, then, to be able to enjoy the Warriors' brand of rugby; expansive attacking play married with a killer instinct.

On the same day Hibernian's Jason Cummings attracted widespread opprobrium for failing with an outlandish chipped penalty in the Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United at Hampden, his similarly confident and talented rugby counterpart, Finn Russell, demonstrated just how to execute an outrageous piece of skill in the heat of battle.

Gregor Townsend had warned his players in the build-up about Scarlets' tendency to start matches strongly, so what a boost it was for Glasgow to grab the game's opening try thanks to the ingenuity of their mercurial fly-half.

Taking the ball to the Scarlets defensive line at pace 10 metres out, Russell dinked a beautifully weighted chip-kick over the top before diving to re-gather the ball and touch down all in one motion.

It was a stunning piece of skill. In fact, it was several pieces of skill executed to perfection to deliver a memorable try.

Glasgow Warriors won the Pro 12 last season
Glasgow Warriors won the Pro 12 last season

Even by half-time - when the visitors had run in only three of the seven tries they would ultimately rack up - Welsh broadcasters and writers were already marvelling at "clinical" Glasgow.

But there was another word that was foremost in Townsend's thoughts after the match - courage.

Courage from Russell to attempt the high-risk chip-kick rather than throw the safe pass. Courage in a wider sense from his entire squad, who have now put together an eight-game winning run just when it seemed like their season was stalling.

Winning last season's Pro12 was an extraordinary achievement, but sustaining that excellence to win it again has been another challenge altogether and a number of factors have made Glasgow's bid to become two-time champions even more difficult than it might.

From missing the bulk of their first-choice team during the World Cup period, to having matches postponed and playing some 'home' games 'away' due to the sub-standard Scotstoun pitch, Warriors have not had their troubles to seek as they searched for the kind of momentum that carried them all the way to that unforgettable victory in the Pro12 final against Munster last May.

"After the World Cup, it was tough," explained Russell, who is now playing with a zip to his game that was perhaps missing in the early part of the season.

"A few boys leaving the club last year, boys away at the World Cup and the new boys coming in. For everybody to come together and gel took us a wee while.

"Before we properly clicked, we were away for the Six Nations again."

That period was tough. Glasgow came up short in the Champions Cup once again when they were so desperate to prove the swashbuckling style they employ in the Pro12 could transfer to the European stage.

Back-to-back league defeats by Edinburgh left their campaign at a crossroads as they entered the Six Nations period, when again they would have to make do without an array of Scotland internationals.

Finn Russell
Finn Russell said it was tough for Glasgow Warriors after the World Cup

Townsend said: "It's been a whole squad effort.

"We really started this run during the Six Nations, when we were missing 10-15 players to Scotland call-ups and a few more with injuries.

"We had to show a lot of courage. We had a great win against Munster down in Kilmarnock and then we had a fantastic win against Leinster.

"Since the Six Nations, we've been boosted with a lot more competition for places."

Now Glasgow look like the Glasgow we know, the team that proved beyond any doubt last season that they were the top dogs in this league.

Seven-try demolitions away from home are normally reserved for the whipping boys of Italy, not top-four rivals from the rugby hotbed of Wales. This result and performance will have given the pretenders to Warriors' crown food for thought.

They should equal the club record by registering a ninth straight win at home to Zebre, which would set-up a final-day shootout in Galway with this season's surprise package Connacht, with the prize of a home semi-final on offer.

If Glasgow finish the regular season with a perfect 10 from 10, stopping them from triumphing in the Pro12 final at Murrayfield on 28 May will be a difficult task.

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