Analysis: Glasgow Warriors out-think and overpower Leicester Tigers
A fine win for Glasgow Warriors over their Premiership opponents was defined as they scored two tries while reduced to 14 men.
On-field action was comprehensively overshadowed by the gut-wrenching loss of Anthony Foley, but an entertaining opening round of European Champions Cup action still provided some thoroughly impressive performances.
Glasgow Warriors’ efforts against Leicester Tigers started the weekend in stirring fashion. Their display in a 42-13 thrashing was superb. And fittingly, in a primal, partisan atmosphere, it felt reminiscent of Munster’s ethereal excellence of a decade ago.
As with Foley’s famous team, ignited by the aggression of Paul O’Connell and co, Glasgow’s measured muscle up front proved irresistible. There were intricate attacking patterns and slick interplay, but, crucially, these facets came alongside an abrasive edge in the contact area. Scotstoun rocked as Gregor Townsend’s side imposed themselves on the occasion and dispatched Leicester.
The match was encapsulated in the first two of the hosts’ five tries, both coming while flanker Ryan Wilson was in the sin bin. The Pro12 outfit did not panic. In fact, the yellow card may have even encouraged them to adopt a narrow, punchy tack. So often able to bully rivals, Tigers were tamed.
Try one: Gatecrashing guards
We begin this passage after a dominant tackle from Leicester has sapped Glasgow’s momentum close to the left-hand touchline. However, scrum-half Henry Pyrgos incites impetus once more.
Hoisting the ball away from the breakdown, he curves back on himself as referee Mathieu Raynal polices the offside line:
Pyrgos is quick enough to arc around Graham Kitchener in the Leicester guard position and looks to suck in bodyguard Dan Cole. With young tighthead prop Zander Fagerson arriving on the right shoulder of Pyrgos, the gap between Cole and Ellis Genge is under threat.
The difficulty for Genge is that Glasgow have also deployed forward runners – locks Tim Swinson and Jonny Gray – outside Fagerson. Behind that, a second wave, organised by centre Sam Johnson, opens up the entire right-hand side of the pitch. Genge is in a dilemma. Should he jam in onto Fagerson or drift out onto Swinson?
Genge steps out, offering Fagerson a gap as Cole steps in onto Pyrgos:
A simple pass sets Fagerson away as Genge realises his error and jams on the brakes:
Kitchener fights back from the guard position and Genge recovers…
…but Fagerson carries strongly…
…and makes significant ground. In behind the visitors, Glasgow opt to go wide and Pyrgos locates Johnson, who has moved up into the first-receiver role:
Johnson throws a pass behind another wave of forward runners to Mark Bennett:
The decoy angles of two back-rowers, Josh Strauss and Rob Harley, serve to slow the line-speed of Owen Williams and Mathew Tait in the Tigers midfield. Wing Tom Brady is around 25 metres infield from touchline:
As the angle pans out, we can see that both Stuart Hogg and Leonard Sarto, the eventual scorer of this try, have held their width well – in the same manner as New Zealand have done during this season’s Rugby Championship.
A gilt-edged chance is on the cards if the ball can be transferred into space. But Bennett drops the pass:
Glasgow stay patient, though. They regroup and Pyrgos organises five phases of narrow forward carries as follows:
- A two-pass play back infield to the left
- A one-pass play to the left
- A pick-and-go to the left
- A pick-and-go to the right
- A one-pass play to the right
Only at this point, inside the Leicester 22 once more, do Glasgow opt to spread the ball. Pyrgos finds Johnson, who has Hogg, Bennett and Sarto to his right. Again, there is around 20 metres outside of Brady, Leicester’s last man.
Pay close attention to Finn Russell and Sarto, the two circled figures in the below screenshot. They are the central protagonists in the final phase of this try:
Johnson cuts back against the grain, targeting a gap between Genge and Brendon O’Connor:
The Tigers pair combine to make the tackle:
Hogg hits the ruck to tacke away Genge. However, O’Connor bounces to his feet to contest alongside Lachlan McCaffrey.
As Pyrgos arrives on the scene, O’Connor is grasping for the ball:
Gordon Reid is next to reach the breakdown. Pyrgos looks up at referee Raynal, who informs him that O’Connor is competing legally:
Pyrgos must wrestle O’Connor to the floor and Reid does the same to McCaffrey. On the right of the below screenshot, a pod of three forwards is preparing to initiate the next phase:
Hogg circles back to hit the ruck a second time and Swinson assumes the role of scrum-half, stooping to find Gray, who has Fagerson on his right shoulder and Strauss on his left:
Tom Youngs sprints out of the line in pursuit of Gray, but a slip to Strauss allows the number eight to make the most of the space outside of the tackler:
Strauss holds firm amid the tackle of Mike Fitzgerald and Kitchener gets over the ball, but Fagerson follows up to resource the breakdown. He helps create quick, clean ball. Looking at the match clock in the top left corner…
…we can work out that the ruck lasts less than three seconds. Tigers are disorganised and under severe duress.
Pyrgos takes the ball and crabs infield slightly. Meanwhile, Sarto bolts towards the left shoulder of Pyrgos. This holds Leicester’s fringe defence, creating a hole as McCaffrey drifts out towards Russell:
A sharp pass from Pyrgos flies across the face of Sarto, bypassing Leicester guard Cole and bodyguard Fitzgerald. This isolates McCaffrey opposite Russell:
Again, Glasgow have maintained the integrity of their attacking structure. They have two waves again, hooker Fraser Brown offering himself in a primary one with Bennett in behind him and Rory Hughes hugging the left touchline.
This stretches Leicester collectively, and McCaffrey individually. He gets disconnected from Fitzgerald and Russell has a gap to dance into:
McCaffrey and Fitzgerald do make the tackle, but not before Russell has crossed the gainline with Sarto in support:
Brown smashes into Fitzgerald and Sarto is on to the ball before Pyrgos reaches the breakdown…
From the reverse angle, we can follow Sarto’s opportunistic thought process.
As McCaffrey and Fitzgerald halt Russell, three Tigers defenders – Cole, Ben Youngs and Tom Youngs from left to right as you see it below – curve around from the inside. Kitchener is worth highlighting too, because of his final position as the try is scored:
Wary of Glasgow’s options to the left, Cole and the Youngs brothers all pass beyond the ruck without filling the left-hand guard role:
Kitchener cannot get across in time and Sarto is simply able to stroll through a vacant fringe and over the line close to the posts:
This is a fine example of how, even with 14 men, patience and precision from an attacking side can manipulate a defence. Just minutes later, Glasgow were in the ascendancy again.
Try two: Bouncing around
The next sequence begins from a set-piece, Brown hitting Swinson at a shortened, four-man lineout. Pyrgos receives the ball off the top…
…and hits Russell with a flat pass. Johnson is further out to the right, with props Fagerson and Reid primed to carry:
In the event, Russell throws a mis-pass to Fagerson.
Watch Brown and Hughes. They are already making their way towards the left-hand touchline in anticipation of a bounce-back pattern:
Fagerson, who looks to be a hugely exciting prospect, is again strong in the collision. Johnson and Reid approach to resource the ruck as McCaffrey makes the tackle:
And once the ball is recycled, Pyrgos can spin around to his left to see a promising picture. Once more, Leicester’s defence has ‘overchased’, committing too many men around the corner of the breakdown.
Glasgow are in three waves, now. Strauss offers himself to Pyrgos on a short line. Further behind is Russell, who has Harley taking the same angle as Strauss. Beyond that, Hogg is circling around behind Harley with Brown and Hughes in the five-metre channel.
To pick at the finest detail, Strauss’ line is arguably too acute, eating cutting across Pyrgos and meaning that Genge (marked by the lower yellow rectangle) can cover both men by standing still:
When the pass goes past Strauss to Russell, Ben Youngs does extremely well to spoil what looks, even this far out, like a try-scoring chance. The England scrum-half bolts past Strauss on to Russell:
Where a pass behind Harley to Hogg might present Glasgow with a three-on-one, Russell is forced to rush and can only throw a looping ball across to Hughes. Fitzgerald is able to leave Harley and drift across with Adam Thompstone:
Hughes gathers on the bounce and crosses the 10-metre line. The ball is recycled and Pyrgos feeds the effervescent Gray…
…who steps off his right foot to head towards a gap and unbalance defenders Cole and Kitchener:
This subtlety allows the hulking lock to cross the gainline. Reid, Harley and Fagerson recycle rapidly and Gray places back the ball to give Pyrgos a pristine platform.
The scrum-half then notices Leicester’s fringe defenders creeping away from their positions:
He throws a dummy and snipes to the verge of the 22:
Because Pyrgos has run in a straight line, it is easy for the three forwards that resourced the previous breakdown to follow up and recycle again – known as ‘double-rucking’. When Pyrgos is scragged by the scrambling defence, Reid, Fagerson and Harley swoop.
Once more, Glasgow recognise the value of quick ball and the necessity to step into the role of scrum-half. This time, wing Hughes is on hand…
…and pops from the floor to Gray:
Pyrgos is back on his feet to manage the next phase and calls Harley around to the right. Notice Kitchener has identified himself as the guard:
But Pyrgos initiates the same pattern that kick-started Glasgow’s first try. He arcs around Kitchener, sucking in bodyguard Dom Barrow, and looks to open up some space to the right of McCaffrey:
McCaffrey responds, jamming in to close off the hole…
…but Harley still makes the 22, where Reid and Fagerson are waiting to hit the ruck. However, Hughes darts in as well…
…and is first to get over the ball:
This time, both guards are set for Tigers. Still they are beaten by a run through the middle:
And even if Hughes slips, Glasgow are in behind. Youngs looks to clasp on to the ball, but Fagerson catapults into him…
…putting him on the floor as Glasgow flood through. Brown is the next to play scrum-half, shipping on to Gray…
…who feeds Swinson. Note at this point that Hogg is screaming for the ball:
Instead of forcing a pass, Swinson powers to within seven metres of the line. Watch Brown, the eventual try-scorer, size up the back-pedalling Leicester defenders:
Hogg helps to clear the breakdown, emphasising the all-round awareness of this Glasgow team:
And Pyrgos winds up to throw a pass back into midfield. Rather than hitting Fagerson though…
…he throws a longer, flatter ball to Brown, who has picked a hole between Kitchener and Tom Youngs:
The collision is a big one…
…but Brown rolls off the floor before he is held…
…and regathers his feet as Raynal signals an advantage to Glasgow:
Telusa Veainu and McCaffrey make a tackle before the try-line…
…but Brown is not to be denied:
Glasgow snatched the lead and did not relinquish it, going further ahead before the break with a Pyrgos try before turning the screw in the second half. Aggressive line-speed and canny decision-making brought two interception scores for Bennett and Sarto.
Clearly, Leicester’s defensive affairs are in disarray. Scott Hansen was sacked just over a week before this fixture, and that background story manifested itself in chaos. Welford Road has been a haven for Tigers this term and they have the talent to fix things. But with Dan Carter and Racing 92 in the East Midlands on Sunday, similar inaccuracies could produce an embarrassment.
As for Glasgow, they head to Thomond Park where emotions will be raw. The best compliment they can pay fallen Foley is to play like this, with the same intelligent, honest industry that endeared the Munster icon to so many.
Pictures courtesy of BT Sport