Glasgow Warriors kept their quarter-final dream alive with the timely unearthing of one of their best performances in Europe against the reigning French champions who had won the last 12 matches in their own back yard.
You don’t win in France without a massive forward effort and that is exactly what Warriors’ big men produced. The lineout was mixed, three throws went awry, but the set scrum was rock solid with one second-half exception.
More importantly Glasgow defended the driving maul with a mix of brains and brawn. Twice in the opening half the home team had attacking lineouts. Glasgow drove the first one backwards and Jonny Gray teamed up with Simone Favaro to win a turnover at the second.
The little Italian flanker tackled everything that moved. If Dan Carter woke up in a cold sweat last night he had Favaro in mind.
Glasgow targeted the All Black great, closing down his time and space, such that Finn Russell was the best ten on the field and by a margin.
In fact both of Glasgow’s half backs were immense, ensuring that the hard-won ball was not wasted. Russell kicked perfectly off the tee for 13 points, he found acres of space in the Racing back field and he fizzed his passes across the front of the back line with expert precision.
He may not have played a better 80 minutes of rugby in his life .
Ali Price was every bit as effective. The scrum-half scored a second-half try and prevented Racing from scoring one when Camille Chat’s kick ahead invited former Pumas’ winger Juan Imhoff to chase it down. Price beat him to the ball, was down and up in a split second and even off-loaded under his own posts for Tommy Seymour to clear.
The opening minutes were ominous for the visiting team as Racing set out their stall from the off. The home team moved the ball from side to side, seeking a chink in the Glasgow defence and they found it inside the opening seven minutes for Imhoff to cross for the first try.
Alex Dunbar was caught looking on to allow Racing the initial line break and then Stuart Hogg was guilty of the same crime when Maxime Machenaud by-passed two attackers to find the Argentine unmarked on the right flank. Carter’s superb conversion gave his side a seven-nil lead that Glasgow set about correcting almost immediately. The visitors scored 23 unanswered points which won this match. Russell kicked two penalties, as Glasgow eased themselves back into contention.
The Warriors looked like scoring their first try when Seymour popped up in the midfield to slice open the Racing defence but, with Hogg in support, the winger passed early before committing the last defender.
They hadn’t long to wait however. Just before the half-hour mark Glasgow were on the charge inside the Racing red zone. Russell looked like he was going out the back door to Sam Johnson only to pop a pass Alex Dunbar running off his shoulder and the centre’s score gave Glasgow a lead they never relinquished.
If Racing were worried by that try, the partisan Parisian crowd were silenced when Price grabbed Glasgow’s second just minutes into the second half.
Glasgow got hands on the ball and showed immense patience in building pressure. Russell spun and stepped to within inches of the Racing line and his half-back partner had the gumption to pick up the ball from the base of the breakdown and place it at the base of the post protector, which Racing had kindly left unattended.
Trailing by 20-7 had the effect of giving Racing a hurry up. The home team enjoyed the bulk of possession and territory in the final half hour but still the next points went to the visitors.
Hogg missed a long-range kick but Russell was more successful with a regulation penalty to stretch Glasgow’s lead by another three.
Eventually Carter remembered who he was. The stand-off took an inside ball from Brice Dulin and stepped past some tiring tackles to score with seven minutes left on the clock. But it wasn’t enough and Glasgow held out for a famous European victory.