GLASGOW head coach Gregor Townsend insisted that his side’s 51-28 humbling in Toulon did not reveal a gulf between the teams, but instead owed everything to his Warriors failing to turn up at kick-off.
Despite warning his side last week of the intense ‘welcome’ provided by the vociferous chanting ‘Toulonnais’ at Stade Mayol, he felt that his players let it affect them.
“That wasn’t us in the first half,” he said. “I think the occasion got to us as a group. “Maybe in the the excitement and the atmosphere we forgot to do our individual tasks, whether chasing kicks or staying within the defensive system, and if you don’t slow down the Toulon attack they will cut you apart. They play great rugby ... and if you are not close to your best then that’s what happens.
“I challenged the players [at half-time] to show what the true Glasgow Warriors team is. The guys upped their performance and the subs who came on were fantastic. That helped to put Toulon under pressure and we scored four cracking tries. We showed a lot more of what we are about in the second half.”
Glasgow captain Alastair Kellock was a picture of fatigue and dejection at the finish. “They were incredibly difficult to play against,” he said, “but as Gregor says that’s what happens when you sit off them. At times their decision-making was easy because they had so much time on the ball. They are a world-class team and we said beforehand that if we came out here and gave our best we would see if that was good enough to win, but in that first half we weren’t even close to it.
“What an occasion, what a place to come and play, but now we have to analyse whether we let that get on top of us. You don’t get two shots at that first half. You’ve got to grab it and we didn’t. We’re pleased with the way we turned it round in the second half, but the first half is at the forefront of my mind at the moment.”
It could all change in week two as Glasgow host Exeter, who thrashed Cardiff 44-29, and Toulon head for the Arms Park. Glasgow defeated Exeter in a pre-season friendly away but Townsend warned: “Exeter are going to be a huge challenge. Their recent performance against Gloucester was outstanding and they had a big win today that shows they are on form. In the Heineken Cup teams play at their best. It’s a step up from what we are used to week in and week out, and they will come with confidence.
“But getting four tries here means a lot. We have one point and that’s something to build on. We approach every game with the attitude that if we play to our best we can be a match for anyone. We weren’t there today for 40 minutes but we showed what we are about in the second half and now we have to build on that at home.”
Toulon captain Jonny Wilkinson, a key orchestrator of Glasgow’s downfall before suffering a thumb injury, spoke as the seasoned veteran he is when asked what had surprised him most about Glasgow, their poor first half or fine second. “Rugby is not surprising to me anymore,” he said. “You never know how things will pan out so you just have to go with it. I wasn’t surprised by anything Glasgow did, especially not the way they played in the second half. They appear to be a hugely fit team and are very well coached, with a lot of leaders in there willing to step up. They are not missing talent either around the place, with guys who can change the game and you saw that in the second half.
“Playing away from home is never easy but being down by that much away and to come back not just with a try or two but right back into the game the way they did is a massive credit to them. The return match [in January] will be interesting. The emphasis then will be on us to understand that we will face something similar to what they came up against here at the start. But, for now, we are just delighted with our start to the competition.”