IT WAS ironic for Glasgow that they should have waited for what’s almost certain to be their last game against English opposition for a while, to claim their first Heineken Cup victory in England.
Exter Chiefs 10-15 Glasgow Warriors
It means they keep hopes alive of a slightly unlikely place in the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals with a best second-place finish. They just have to beat European champions Toulon at Scotstoun next week, preferably with a bonus point, and hope results go their way – pretty straightforward then!
Exeter made 11 changes for this game, using their squad, so while Glasgow can be relieved and pleased with this victory, any delight should be tempered.
They started slowly after missing matches at soggy Scotstoun over the holiday period, then played pretty well for around 40 minutes with Ruaridh Jackson pulling the strings – benefiting from playing with a passing scrum-half in Henry Pyrgos.
The second half was about as exciting as spending 40 minutes discussing the latest ins and outs of European rugby politics, and about as productive, but Glasgow could at least take satisfaction from having got their noses in front and staying there during the final 30 minutes while Exeter huffed and puffed at a brick-wall defence.
Whatever the results of all that politics, it seems likely that English and Scottish teams will be on different sides of the divide, so it may be a few years before a game such as this is seen again.
While Edinburgh have won three times in England in the Heineken Cup, at Northampton, Leeds and London Irish, the closest Glasgow had come was losing 33-31 to Saracens six seasons ago, or 35-31 in Bath three years ago when they nearly snatched it with a length-of-the-pitch effort at the death.
So there was satisfaction at the achievement of winning in England and also pleasure that they kept their European season alive, no matter how tenuously. “We will have to be better next week,” admitted coach Gregor Townsend. “We picked it up in the second quarter today, but the second half was not a very good spectacle. The score affected us because we were winning away and doing well in defence.
“In a way there is less pressure next week. We have Toulon coming and there is nothing to lose. The game was away from us out there by the second half, but then we played some of the best rugby we have played all year and, if we can repeat that, then we have a chance at home.
“We know how difficult it will be because Toulon will be looking for a home quarter-final. They have great depth and quality throughout their squad, but we believe we can play better.”
If Jackson was the controlling influence with ball in hand, captain Chris Fusaro was the key player at the breakdown, wing Sean Lamont was the man-of-the-match, scoring the second try from short range and constantly offering himself to make the hard yards to get his side on the front foot.
“We will take the win, which still gives us a chance of doing something in the competition,” said the Scotland wing. “How better to judge yourselves than against Europe’s best next week.
“It was a game of two halves out there. It was quite hard trying to come back from a 40-point difference after the first half, but we did a lot better after that. If we can get our defence sorted, then Scotstoun will be a lot different to what they are used to in the South of France.
“We will work out what we need to do against them – basically not giving them a 40-point advantage would be a good start. We are not deluding ourselves, it will be a tough round, so we will have to wait and see. We will look to build on our defence. We got some turnovers and did not give Exeter too many line breaks.”
Exeter opened well and deserved their early 10-0 lead, thanks to a Vainikolo try from close range and the boot of Henry Slade. Jackson made several half-breaks to set up positions for Glasgow and then slick handling allowed Sean Maitland to score in the left corner.
Lamont added the second and the combined kicking of Jackson and Stuart Hogg kept Glasgow far enough ahead to survive an incredibly bizarre ending. As the clock ticked past 80 minutes, clear on several scoreboards round the ground, Niko Matuwalu kicked an up and under when all he had to do was put the ball out of play. Captain Chris Fusaro said he had been told in both English and Fijian to put it out, but at least Glasgow were able to laugh about it.