Northampton came north seeking a bonus point and left with a bloody nose as Glasgow finally sealed the Heineken Cup win they craved.
Scorers: Glasgow: Tries: Strauss, Matawalu, Horne. Cons: Wight 2, Horne. Pens: Jackson 2. Northampton: Tries: Waldouk, Pisi, Foden. Cons: Myler 2. Pen: Myler.
The elusive winning performance was achieved by matching the English Premiership side at every turn, then finding that extra edge that took them beyond the ordinary and fulfilled their latent potential.
It was set up by a deliberate tactical switch with ten minutes to go and then finished off by a flash of individual genius as Peter Horne, newly called up to the Scotland squad, evaded half a dozen attempted tackles as he dummied, stepped and handed off in a mazy run that took him more than half the length of the pitch to go over under the posts.
Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend made the call to take off Scott Wight, who had replaced the injured Ruaridh Jackson in the first half, and bring on centre Alex Dunbar, another Scotland squad member, as the best way to close out the game with Glasgow leading 20-15. The move shifted Horne into the unaccustomed position of stand-off.
It looked to have backfired immediately when England fullback Ben Foden went in for the Saints’ third try to tie the score at 20-20. But Glasgow continued to battle and, with Northampton’s replacement prop in the sin bin for the final two minutes, there was just enough space available for Horne to find a route to the line. He kicked the conversion for good measure.
Horne said: “After the first dummy I thought, we’ll see what happens here. And I managed to weave and get a wee fend in and when I got to the 22 I thought ‘Am I actually going to make this?’ and it was a really nice feeling when I actually did.”
Glasgow’s third try followed earlier ones by blindside Josh Strauss who used brute force to smash his way over the line from close range, and by Fijian scrum-half Nikola Matuwala who pickpocketed the ball on the halfway line to break away and score.
Northampton also scored three times as the scoreboard see-sawed. Centre Dom Waldouk took a crash ball and just managed to touch it against the foot of the post for a try that had to be confirmed by the video referee. George Pisi and Foden grabbed the others but it wasn’t enough to keep up with the home team.
There wasn’t a weak link in the Glasgow side on the day. Scotland’s interim coach Scott Johnston must have had an appreciative smile on his face as he watched his Scotland squad selections turn it on two weeks before the Calcutta Cup game against England.
The forwards were outstanding, the front row immense, against what is routinely described as one of the best packs in Europe, and the back line was dripping with flair and creativity. Matawalu crackled and sparked with every touch of the ball, earning him the Man of the Match award before cramp saw him shoved out onto the wing. Captain Al Kellock was at his inspirational best, and Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg was involved in absolutely everything. One try-saving tackle in the first half on winger Jamie Elliott was tremendous, and in attack in the second half he might have scored himself, but chose to pass inside to Sean Maitland who stumbled as he collected the ball metres from the line and the chance was lost.
Northampton coach Jim Mallinder defended tactics which included repeatedly kicking for the corner rather than attempting penalties unless they were a guaranteed three points in front of the posts. The Saints needed a bonus point win if they were to progress in the Heineken Cup, so they needed tries and they went for them. Skipper Dylan Hartley agreed that they might have won the game if they had kicked the penalties. “Hindsight is a wonderful thing,” he said.
If Glasgow deserved the euphoria of this particular Heineken Cup moment, the fact remains that they were the whipping boys of Group Four with only one win out of six, something that is hard to square with their second top position in the RaboDirect Pro12 league.
With his feet rapidly returning to the ground, Horne summed it up: “We have had a frustrating campaign. To finish on a high by no means makes up for all those losses but it gives us something to take into our league form.”
Kellock said: “I am delighted we won but frustrated that it doesn’t mean a lot. What we had done in this tournament before today just wasn’t acceptable and that was a big motivating factor for us. I believe we have the talent and the ability. We want to win. We expect to win and we have got to find that little extra edge and the consistency that will give us the winning performances.”
And Gregor Townsend rounded it off: “It is a reminder of where we should be, winning games in the Heineken Cup. We have been competitive in every game but that is not what we are here to do, we are here to win.”
Glasgow: S Hogg; T Seymour, B McGuigan, G Morrison, S Maitland; R Jackson, N Matawalu; G Reid, P McArthur, M Low, T Swinson, A Kellock, J Strauss, J Eddie, R Wilson. Subs: D Hall (for McArthur 50), R Grant (for Reid 61), T Ryder (for Wilson 45) A Dunbar (for Wight 69), S Kennedy (for Seymour 57), S Wight (for Jackson 35), P Horne (for McGuigan 55).
Northampton: B Foden; J Wilson, G Pisi, D Waldouk, J Elliott; S Myler, L Dickson; S Tonga’uiha, D Hartley, P Doran-Jones, S Manoa, C Lawes, C Clark, T Wood, P Dowson. Subs M Haywood (for Hartley 67), A Waller (for Tonga’uiha 55), T Mercey (for Dowson 55), M Sorenson (for Clark 36), R Oakley (for Lawes 50), M Roberts (for Dickson 59), R Lamb (for Myler 55), T May (for Wilson 55).
Referee: L Hodges (WRU). Att: 4,193