GLASGOW kept their faint European hopes alive as they won in England for the first time in Heineken Cup history.
Scorers: Chiefs: Try: Vainikolo. Cons: Slade. Pen: Slade. Warriors: Tries: Maitland, Lamont. Con: Hogg. Pen: Hogg.
A place in the second tier Amlin Challenge Cup remains a possibility, but they will need a big result against European champions Toulon at Scotstoun next Saturday.
A promising first half in the Devon sunshine was followed by a turgid second period with both teams unable to generate any real fluency. But Glasgow head coach Gregor Townsend was satisfied as his team fought back from an early ten-point deficit in their first game for three weeks.
“We were a bit rusty at the beginning of the game, which you could say is natural. We have not played many games over the last few weeks. But we picked it up. I thought we did a lot of good things on the attack in that second quarter and we defended really well in the second quarter and Exeter played well.
“But in the second half both teams never really got into their game and it wasn’t a very good spectacle. But we hung in there. We defended really well over the 80 minutes and to win in England, I don’t think the club have done that in Europe, so that was great.”
It was an eye-pleasing first 40 minutes with both teams committed to an attacking game. Exeter booted the ball to the returning wing Sean Lamont straight from kick off and welcomed him back to European rugby with bang.
They quickly turned over possession and following a sustained assault in the Warriors 22, stand-off Henry Slade slotted over a penalty to give the home side an early lead in the third minute. Scrum-half Henry Pyrgos launched a Warriors break with a outrageous through-the-legs pass on seven minutes to maintain the attacking theme.
But Exeter made the first big breakthrough with Tongan wing Fetu’u Vainikolo crashing over in the 17th minute. The seemingly compulsory wait for the video referee’s approval was followed by a Slade conversion to give the hosts an early cushion.
But the Glasgow response was immediate. Lamont – showing no ill-effects from his six week lay-off with ligament damage – picked up an Exeter fumble from the kick off. The resulting attack led to prop Ed Kalman popping a basketball pass to Sean Maitland and the winger scampered over.
Hogg missed the conversion, but Glasgow had now turned the game and suddenly looked the more potent threat. On the half hour stand-off Ruaridh Jackson broke through and fed Lamont who juggled the pass and the threat petered out.
But with six minutes to go to half time, Lamont stretched over after Jackson had caused more chaos in the Chiefs’ defence. Lamont looked sharp, a timely boost for Scotland head coach Scott Johnson with the Six Nations squad due to be announced this week.
Hogg converted the try to give the visitors a 12-10 advantage at the break.
A further penalty from Hogg stretched Glasgow’s lead in the 49th minute. For the hosts, Slade missed a penalty in the 60th minute. By now both were struggling to get any verve or fluency. Glasgow gave Exeter an unexpected final chance when Fijian Niko Matawalu inexplicably kicked the ball back to the hosts with 80 minutes up when just one metre from touch.
But the English side couldn’t muster a decisive break and Glasgow turned the ball over to clinch victory, their third over Exeter in six months, including a pre-season friendly as well as the reverse Heineken Cup fixture in October.
Townsend added: “I made a joke with the players in the changing room, I said ‘I told Niko to do that so we could get some extra defensive practice from minute 80 to 82.’ Niko was saying he didn’t know it was time. It was one of many mistakes in the second half.”
Exeter head coach Rob Baxter wasn’t too downbeat after making wholesale changes to his side: “If we had forced a try in that last passage of play, having made 11 changes and beaten a Glasgow team going full on, we’d have been pretty pleased with ourselves.”