RICHIE Vernon admitted Glasgow only have themselves to blame after a disappointing 12-9 defeat by Toulouse at Scotstoun on Saturday left their hopes of progressing to the quarter-finals of the European Rugby Champions Cup for the first time badly dented.
Glasgow 9-12 Toulouse
Scorers: Glasgow – Pens: Russell, Weir (2). Toulouse – Pens: Mazy (4)
After slipping to their second defeat in six days at the hands of the illustrious French side and losing their proud 11-month unbeaten home record, Gregor Townsend’s men find themselves level with Bath on ten points in the Pool 4 standings. Glasgow now have a home game next month against a Montpellier side who are no longer interested in the tournament, before facing a dramatic denouement with Bath at The Rec, from which only two bonus point wins are likely to be enough to clinch qualification via one of the three runners-up slots available.
Yet Glasgow centre Vernon remained sanguine in the face of frustrating adversity and mounted a stout defence of stand-off Finn Russell, whose kicking game crucially deserted him when two inviting penalties came his way in a dull encounter which was decided by fine margins.
“If you don’t take your opportunities at this level then you will pay for it and ultimately we did not make enough of ours while Toulouse did take theirs and credit to them, so I guess we only have ourselves to blame,” admitted Vernon.
“Obviously we are disappointed to have put so much effort into the game, for the second week in a row, and all we have to show for it is the losing bonus point. But we are by no means out of it yet and when we come back in January it is a home game with Montpellier and we must make that count.
“The frustrating thing is that there has not been a lot in it over the two games but again we did not make enough of our possession. But they made life very difficult at the breakdown – Toulouse have some very big units and it was very tough to compete in there. So we are still in contention but now we must re-focus and re-group for the visit of Munster on Saturday in the Guinness Pro12.”
Vernon also backed Russell, whose outstanding form and normally composed play for Glasgow has perhaps led many to forget that the 22-year-old is still only in his second season as a first-team regular.
Vernon said: “Finn has been outstanding for us and for Scotland, and the type of guy he is he will take this and learn from the experience and be the better for it. Finn is a great kicker and although he was unfortunate with a couple of kicks he will be back.”
Both sides seemed more concerned about not making costly errors than daring to win in the opening exchanges and it was Glasgow who were first to infringe when Tim Swinson was penalised for failing to roll away deep inside his own 22 and Toulouse scrum-half Sebastien Bezy stroked his kick over effortlessly.
With neither outfit producing any cutting edge to their multi-phase possession, Glasgow were again the victims of their own rashness when Alex Dunbar was adjudged to have come in at the side of a ruck. However this time Bezy shanked his effort hideously to leave Glasgow shaken but not stirred.
Warriors continued to huff and puff without posing any real threat against a superbly organised Toulouse defence but eventually reclaimed parity when the French side were penalised for not releasing and Russell kicked the resulting penalty.
Glasgow were soon offered the chance to edge in front, but Russell surprisingly failed to convert the penalty. When Bezy demonstrated nonchalant accuracy to put the four-times Heineken Cup winners 6-3 up without remotely having entered top gear, it was easy to arrive at the conclusion that this encounter would be won and lost by the boot.
Glasgow were offered a chance to level the scores from a visiting infringement. Yet from the half-way line Stuart Hogg managed to find the distance but not the accuracy with his kick and the teams reached the interval with the Scotstoun side badly in need of the type of inspiration that would get a muted home crowd involved. Perhaps the game’s pivotal moment arrived four minutes after the break when Toulouse behemoth Joe Tekori transgressed and Russell was afforded a straightforward opportunity just outside the 22, to the left, to reclaim parity.
But after taking an inordinately long time to address the ball, perhaps an indication that his confidence was not at its usual level, Russell screwed his kick horribly.
Five minutes later the frustrated hosts were penalised after a lineout and Bezy put Guy Noves’ men 9-3 in front.
Glasgow responded with a ponderous period of one-dimensional pressure. With Russell’s kicking game having completely disappeared, the visitors soaked it up comfortably before a further transgression by Townsend’s side offered Bezy another easy penalty.
For Russell these two games against the former European champions have offered a chastening experience, borne of a yellow card in the first meeting for a tip tackle and then this strangely out-of-sorts performance with the boot. The affable Stirling man will doubtless use these sobering episodes to continue his development.
But with Townsend hooking both Russell and scrum-half Henry Pyrgos for Duncan Weir and Niko Matawalu, Warriors were at last given a vital but belated injection of devilment and pace.
Although Weir’s two late penalties at last got the home support involved it was ultimately too little, too late and the Warriors were left to go home and think again about a pair of encounters with their French counterparts which have produced just one solitary bonus point yet could and should have yielded so much more.
Glasgow: S Hogg; S Maitland (S Lamont, 58), R Vernon, A Dunbar (P Horne, 63), T Seymour; F Russell (D Weir, 58), H Pyrgos (N Matawalu, 58); R Grant (G Reid, 51), P MacArthur (F Brown, 70), J Welsh (E Murray, 51), T Swinson (L Nakarawa, 63), J Gray, R Wilson, R Harley, J Strauss (captain).
Toulouse: C Poitrenaud (V Clerc, 70); Y Huget, Y David, G Fickou (L McAlister, 50), M Médard; J-M Doussain, S Bézy; G Steenkamp (V Kakovin, 50), C Flynn, C Johnston (K Pulu 69), J Tekori (R Millo Chluski, 74), Y Maestri, Y Nyanga (G Lamboley, 70), T Dusautoir (captain), L Picamoles.