THE dark skies warned of a tight, scrappy affair in Glasgow’s west end but the Warriors emerged from under them with their first Heineken Cup victory and quarter-final qualification hopes firmly intact.
Scorers: Glasgow Warriors - Tries: Swinson, Holmes Cons: Jackson 2 Pens: Jackson 2; Exeter Chiefs - Tries: Ewers Cons: Slade Pens: Steenson 3
With Toulon having lost in Cardiff on Saturday, the pool was thrown wide open and it remains that way after the Chiefs snatched what could prove to be a crucial late bonus point to join the French side at the top of the table, and leave all with one win after the first two rounds of competition. Glasgow have two matches with Cardiff to come in the pivotal December rounds while Exeter and Toulon go head to head.
The rain made for a tense, often dull encounter yesterday and while Glasgow took a grip of the game in the second half and deserved the reward of tries by Tim Swinson and Tyrone Holmes, they may rue chances that were lost through a lack of accuracy in the first half and one “try” in the second which the television match official ruled out. That left the door open for Exeter No 8 Dave Ewers to steal over three minutes from time and cut the losing deficit to just four points.
The match provided an interesting lesson for both sides in how to rein in their natural game and find a finish with a more direct, forward-orientated approach, both having been outsmarting teams this season with fine continuity, flowing attacks and good tries. Neither team quite grasped that effectively.
The first half at times resembled a juggling competition among players, the rain sabotaging the players’ efforts to open up the opposition with slick off-loads, while French referee Romain Poite was strict on mishaps at the set-piece and breakdown. So, penalties reigned supreme, and Gareth Steenson opened the scoring and kicked two more to two in reply from Ruaridh Jackson.
Exeter were fortunate not to lose hooker Chris Whitehead after he late-tackled Glasgow’s liveliest attacking threat, Niko Matawalu, after the scrum-half’s chip ahead, but they also asked questions of the home defence with a varied attack, red-capped England flanker Tom Johnson and their ex-Wallabies leader Dean Mumm key ball-carriers, while Steenson looked for space with kicks.
Glasgow’s defence was up to the challenge, impressive flankers Rob Harley and Holmes in particular making their presence felt, but scrum issues and discipline at the breakdown cost them, and handed Exeter a 9-6 half-time lead.
It could have been different. Matawalu fired an attack on the right and, though lifting momentum was tough in the conditions, Sean Maitland superbly re-injected go-forward with a clever pass and Gabriel Ascarate broke clear on the left. Making his debut, the Argentine tried a chip, when a pass to Harley inside might have been better, but Exeter survived when Steenson fed the ball backwards from the bottom of the ruck.
He was duly shown the yellow card, but his “professional foul” saved the Chiefs, the rain did its bit when Holmes let slip a pass around his knees metres from the same corner and another Exeter penalty let the visitors off the hook.
Poite spoke to Pat MacArthur, the Glasgow hooker, asking him for better control of the home scrummage, and it seemed to work as the home pack went on to dominate the scrum and lineout throughout the game. Matawalu’s instinctive style revealed its good and bad sides, the scrum-half moving ball better kept in the forwards and an ill-advised quick lineout wasting an attacking platform in the Exeter half, but his kicking and darting were continual problems for the Chiefs.
The Warriors defence was unremitting, though costly, with prop Ed Kalman suffering a head knock, being replaced by Moray Low, and good set-piece attacks teed up chances in the Exeter 22 but foundered on slippy hands.
Steenson returned for the Chiefs, meaning the Warriors had failed to move the scoreboard with a man advantage, and for all their dominant finish to the half, Poite’s raised green sleeve threatened to become as damaging to them as the worsening rainfall.
Their best chance came in the final seconds of the half. Exeter scrum-half Dave Lewis embarrassed his side when he kicked the ball straight out from near his own line in the mistaken belief that half-time was up, but there were still 25 seconds on the clock.
Glasgow drove the lineout and though stopped, decided instead to move the ball to the backs rather than roll around the fringes, and ultimately lost it forward when it came back the way, again due to slippery hands.
The rain eased during the interval, and after Jackson sclaffed a penalty Glasgow finally broke the shackles of Exeter and the weather. The fly-half was caught in a ruck, so DTH van der Merwe stepped up and took Matawalu’s pass to deliver a fine Garryowen high into the Exeter half. The winger made a nuisance of himself in the ruck, winning Glasgow a scrum, and then the Warriors attacked with their trademark alacrity.
Tommy Seymour made the ground coming in off the right flank, then Holmes broke out of a ruck, Matawalu sniped to within five metres and big lock Swinson picked up and barreled over between the posts.
Poite sought advice from his TMO, Herve Dubes, perhaps just to prove the link was working, before confirming the score, and Jackson converted.
Glasgow made three changes, replacing forwards Swinson and MacArthur with Jonny Gray and Dougie Hall, sending Duncan Weir on for Ascarate and shifting Jackson to inside centre. It maintained the forward control and, with another kicker, aided the mission to keep the pressure in Exeter’s half.
The Premiership side showed terrific workrate in defence, but Glasgow built momentum decisively in the final quarter. Seymour looked to have sealed it when he finished a strong run in the right-hand corner, but, after consulting the TMO, Poite ruled that Maitland’s pass to Jackson in the lead-up had been forward.
However, the second try was only delayed, Maitland making sure of his pass to van der Merwe, who found Jackson who, in turn, fed Holmes and the flanker put the icing on the cake of a Man of the Match display by diving over the line with seven minutes remaining.
The hard work done, Glasgow almost threw it away as Exeter No 8 Ewers touched down after a Chiefs penalty had been kicked to touch and the pack drove the lineout. Henry Slade converted to cut the deficit back to 20-16 with four minutes left.
The Warriors held on and, just as last week’s bonus point was welcome after a tough first half in Toulon, so this hard-earned victory was ultimately clasped warmly to the breast by the Scotstoun faithful – with the hope that the consolation secured by the Chiefs will not prove decisive later in the tournament.
Glasgow Warriors: S Maitland; T Seymour, B McGuigan, G Ascarate, DTH van der Merwe; R Jackson, N Matawalu; R Grant, P MacArthur, E Kalman, T Swinson, A Kellock (capt), R Harley, T Holmes, J Strauss. Subs: M Low for Kalman 29mins, D Hall for MacArthur, J Gray for Swinson, D Weir for Ascarate, all 57, R Vernon for Holmes 76, C Cusiter, M Bennett.
Exeter Chiefs: P Dollman; I Whitten, J Shoemark, S Hill, M Jess; G Steenson, D Lewis; B Moon, C Whitehead, H Tui, D Mumm (capt), D Welch, T Johnson, B White, D Ewers. Subs: H Slade for Whitten 25mins, J Yeandle for Whitehead, B Sturgess for Moon, H Thomas for Lewis, K Horstmann for Johnson, all 55mins, A Brown for Tui 66, F Vainikolo for Steenson 74.
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE